The number of farmers who are members of agricultural co-operatives has increased to over 150,000, according to the UK co-operative economy 2017 report, which attributes the rise to people wanting to have more control over their economy and to have their voices heard. The rise in farmer members mirrors a trend in the wider co-operative sector, covering everything from dairy farmers to digital start-ups, which has seen 700,000 members join in the last year.
Ed Mayo, secretary general of Co-operatives UK, said: “Underlying the political surprises over the last year appears to be a desire from many parts of the population for an economy over which they have more of a say and from which they get a fair share.
“Agricultural co-ops are an effective way for farmers to get leverage and cut costs in competitive global markets, and as we move into Brexit, negotiations will become even more important for the industry.”Despite the increase in membership, agricultural co-ops have seen a five per cent downturn in turnover due to one of the most challenging years British agriculture has faced, though it totalled £7.4 billion last year and remains a large part of the UK co-operative sector.
The report also highlights agricultural co-ops that are bucking the trend.
The Organic Milk Suppliers Cooperative, OMSCo, is a dairy co-operative that is thriving in the current environment having seen membership increase far beyond the sector average of two per cent.
Because of successful innovation, the development of international markets, and strong performance of its core domestic business, there has been a requirement for more organic milk and as a result OMSCo’s membership has increased by 26 per cent over the last two years.
Richard Hampton, OMSCo’s managing director, said: “Being an innovative and flexible co-operative has allowed us to take advantage of global market opportunities.
“The development of export markets has helped us to balance any fluctuations in UK organic milk consumption, which has enabled members to receive a stable and sustainable milk price.
“Our members are critical to the success of our co-operative, they all share a vision and aren’t afraid to try something to develop markets and take advantage of opportunities. “We have a flat structure, so everyone has a say, and the senior management team pride themselves on being accessible.
“Global organic dairy market growth is currently outstripping that of the UK and our market diversification strategy has led us to spread risk and take advantage of this by developing premium, specialist organic dairy ingredients for sale worldwide.”