Spring 1992 // Volume 30 // Number 1 // Ideas at Work // 1IAW4

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Starting New Producer Organizations

By offering leadership and organizational expertise to new producer groups, Extension staff can help agricultural enterprises in their states.

Frank R. Lichtkoppler
District Specialist, Sea Grant
Ohio Cooperative Extension Service
Ohio State University-Painesville

Gregory R. Passewitz
State Leader, Small Business
Ohio Cooperative Extension Service
Ohio State University-Columbus

Extension educators have the leadership and organizational skills needed to help individuals create a new producer organization. The Ohio Aquaculture Association (OAA) began when several Extension educators and fish farmers informally discussed the advantages and disadvantages of forming an association. A subsequent mail survey conducted by Extension indicated many Ohio fish farmers were interested in an association and were willing to meet to talk about it.

With this initial encouragement, the Extension educators then organized and chaired a preliminary meeting of interested aquaculturists. Their task at the first meeting was to establish an atmosphere of open, frank discussions on the needs for an association. With an Extension educator as group moderator, the meeting moved rapidly toward a consensus to establish an association. An ad hoc committee of fish farmers was then formed to develop a set of proposed guidelines for the OAA. The purposes identified by the committee were to legitimize and lend credibility to the Ohio aquaculture industry, identify industry needs, create a network for communication, and establish a unified voice to express the needs and concerns of the industry. With Extension educators guiding the process, the ad hoc committee met three times to develop the proposed OAA guidelines.

The next step was the OAA organizational meeting and fish farming forum. Extension organized the meeting and publicized it with a direct mailing to licensed fish farmers and statewide news releases. Ninety-five people attended the forum, where the fish farmers adopted the proposed association guidelines, elected officers, and established dues. Minutes of the meeting and other information were mailed by Extension to the participants as a follow-up.

Here's a summary of the process of organizing a new producer group:

  1. Determine the perceived needs for an association by surveying potential members.
  2. Hold an initial steering committee meeting. If enough interest exists and the group feels the need to organize, continue the process.
  3. Network with Extension educators and others with experience in starting similar organizations. Obtain guidelines from other groups as the basis for discussions on membership, dues, committee structure, and organization of the association.
  4. Form a steering committee to develop by-laws and guidelines for the proposed organization based on consensus.
  5. Plan and hold an initial organizational meeting. Stimulate attendance by combining it with an attractive educational program.
  6. Provide support for the leadership of the new association.

Close cooperation with the leadership the first year is critical in helping the new association move forward. Members need to be assured that their dues are being used for the purposes of the organization. The organization may require further support to produce a newsletter, news releases, a membership drive, executive committee meetings, and an annual meeting that are all a part of the first-year process.

By offering leadership and organizational expertise to new producer groups, Extension staff can help agricultural enterprises in their states.