WASHINGTON, D.C., U.S. — Business volume for U.S. farmer, rancher and fishery cooperatives set a sales record for a third straight year as it surpassed $246 billion in 2013, a gain of $8 billion, or 4%, from the previous record set in 2012, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said Sept. 30.

U.S. crop production and livestock sales both increased 6% in 2013. Production input (farm supply) sales increased 2%. Agriculture cooperatives in 2013 had record net income (before taxes) of $6.2 billion, which beat the previous high of $6.1 billion set in 2012.

The number of full-time employees working for agricultural cooperatives climbed 5% to 136,000 in 2013. Counting seasonal employees, agricultural cooperatives employ 191,000 people.

Agriculture cooperatives are also active in the farm supply market. Cooperative sales of petroleum, feed, seed and crop protectants increased in 2013. Fertilizer sales declined.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) said it appears unlikely agriculture cooperatives in 2014 will break the 2013 record since grain and oilseed prices generally are lower in 2014. Livestock, poultry and dairy producers and their cooperatives should benefit from lower feed costs.

The value of cooperative assets fell in 2013 by almost $1 billion. Liabilities decreased by $5.3 billion while owner equity gained by $4.5 billion. Equity capital still remains low, but it showed a 15% increase over the previous year, according to the USDA.

There are now 2,186 farmer, rancher and fishery cooperatives in the United States, down from 2,236 in 2012, according to the USDA. Mergers accounted for most of the drop.

Vilsack made the announcement to mark the start of National Cooperative Month in October. He also signed a proclamation that salutes the nation's entire cooperative business sector, which includes about 30,000 cooperatives. Besides agriculture, the nation's co-operatives are active in electricity and telecommunications services, credit and financial services, housing, and many other sectors of the economy.