Missouri Farmers Union CU Takes Socially Responsible Approach to Investing
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. - Investing in the livelihoods of mostly rural, low-income, independent farmers is so important to Missouri Farmers Union Credit Union that it's careful about the investment decisions it makes. The $867,000 credit union, launched in 2004, serves 133 members, according to NCUA data. It recently became a member of the Social Investment Forum, a national nonprofit association with more than 500 members dedicated to promoting the concept and practice of socially responsible investing. Some of the ways MFUCU is carrying out its socially responsible investing mission is providing a package of loans to small-scale vegetable producers that do not use chemical pesticides or herbicides, though they are not certified organic. The credit union is also providing $5,000 to $15,000 loans for those members that want to join the Ozark Quality Hardwood Cooperative, a kiln-dried wood facility that uses only sustainably harvested timber. The co-op is currently seeking Forest Stewardship Council certification, the "gold standard" in environmental management for the timber industry. Membership in the co-op is beyond the means of many timber producers in the region, said MFUCU. MFUCU also supports renewable energy, for example by promoting an alternative to large-scale ethanol and biodiesel plants that have several problems associated with them, said Bryce Oates, the CU's fundraising coordinator. First, purchasing ownership rights in such plants runs upwards of $50,000 to $100,000, exceeding the means of small and medium scale farmers. "These huge plants generate an awful lot of feed that people who support industrial agriculture are trying to use as a backdoor method to expand confined-animal feeding operations, which are very harmful to the environment," Oates said. "The costs associated with building big facilities and purchasing ownership rights in them is tremendous-upwards of $50,000 to $100,000-the type of farmer we're interested in supporting as members are not able to commit that kind of capital." For socially responsible investors seeking to support this "reinvestment in rural America" program, MFUCU is currently offering certificates of deposit at "below-market" rates, typically 3-4% interest, for one- to three-year terms for investments between $10,000 and $100,000. MFUCU is also in the process of capitalizing a cooperative loan fund that will serve as a sister organization to the credit union.