This month we ask Sam Byrne, Secretary of The Co-op Federation:
Why choose a co-operative structure for the next stage of our farming collaboration?
Collaboration can deliver substantial benefits for farmers all along the agricultural supply chain. Sharing farm equipment, purchasing and marketing together, and best-practice learning can deliver reduced costs, higher prices and significant on-farm improvements.
Informal collaboration is already everywhere in agriculture, based on trust and long-standing relationships with neighbours and those in your agricultural industry. It is also a great platform for co-operative enterprise.
Keeping things informal can be efficient and low maintenance, and for some collaboration a reason may never come to formalise. However, if you want to grow the project, apply for a grant, secure insurance etc etc, formality through incorporation can become necessary on the path to even more benefits.
Co-operatives are strictly one-member, one-vote. The enterprise will never be controlled by the largest farmer or an external party but will be focussed on benefitting all.
Co-operatives require active support from members by supplying product or using a service regularly, thereby encouraging engagement, loyalty and viability.
Co-operatives are a family of enterprises across all sectors of the economy, supporting each other and being run according to globally-agreed and locally-legislated principles that include democracy, independence, education, co-operation among co-operatives, and concern for the community.
Co-operatives are also focussed on delivering long-term benefits to their members and their communities, not short-term profits for distant shareholders. They look after today’s farmer and tomorrow’s.
The co-operative advantage describes how cutting out the middleperson and the external profit seeker can deliver greater value. There are even potential tax advantages.
Co-operatives have existed for as long as any other business or organisational structure. It’s no surprise that what has delivered so well for past generations in agriculture is now being chosen again more and more as the way forward today.
The Co-op Federation (fed.coop) is a not-for-profit peak body. Its members are co-operatives and it exists to support, represent and promote co-operative enterprise. It is a foundation partner of Farming Together and has assisted dozens of groups in agriculture in the last few years establish new co-operatives.