First investment co-op launched for organic ag sector

An Australian-first organic investment co-operative has received official sign-off; the Victorian-based group was officially registered this month.

The Organic & Regenerative Investment Co-operative (ORICoop) aims to provide a platform for people to invest in successful organic farms and businesses across Australia.

Founders believe the co-op will be a model for other groups nationally, and will help farmers with their succession planning.

The co-op is the first of several similar groups engaging with the national Farming Together program.

The program matched the fledgling co-op board members with experts in co-op law. The registration capped a two-year process undertaken by an inaugural board.

The group’s spokesperson, Carolyn Suggate (pictured) said: “There’s an incredible appetite for a balanced approach to investment, to facilitate it into vehicles that are more horizontally managed rather than vertically structured.

“We’ve had incredible interest in what we’re building. Our intention is for organic farms to be preserved and to be held in perpetuity. Investors and farm managers can come and go, but the entity is secured for longevity, and Australian ownership and benefit.

“One of the biggest factors in organics is about preservation and restoration rather than profit extraction and so that’s why a co-op structure is so suitable.”

The sheep and beef producer said the co-op not only offered an investment option for organics farmers, but a powerful succession planning tool for all farmers.

“For retiring farmers it is a structure to allow them to step back and leave equity and invest it in a co-operative structure, that offers them secure exit in a timely manner,” she said.

“Their children can lease the farm from the co-op, but if something happens on either end of that scale, both the investors and the managers are protected through the mechanism of the co-op. It means people can step back and young farmers can get in without massive risk from either side.

“For me, coming from a farming family, I think that’s critical and ground-breaking for our farmers, young and old. We hope this innovative structure will be embraced by other industries and other co-operatives around Australia.”

Involvement in the Farming Together was instrumental in bringing the concept forwards for registration, she added.

“Through the program we’ve benefited immensely from the expert support that’s been offered, through the professionals that have been recommended to us. We’ve benefited from the collaboration of other people who have come in to the program with us, behind us and in front of us,” she said. “And also the professionals in the Farming Together organisation have helped us to understand our idea and to develop it further.”

Farming Together brings consultants and farming groups together, to help them with strategic planning, feasibility studies, group negotiation, collaboration and governance.

Project director Lorraine Gordon explained, “The $13.8m Farming Together program is a nation-wide campaign for primary producers and processors to collaborate and claim marketplace power.

“Australian Government funding is helping agricultural groups value-add, secure premium pricing, scale-up production, attract capital investment, earn new markets or secure lower input costs.

All farmer groups who register receive one-on-one expert advice to discuss their opportunities and appetite to create a successful collaborative group. This could be either as a structured co-operative, as a collective bargaining entity or as a less-formal collaborative group,” she said.

Farming Together is delivered by Southern Cross University on behalf of the Australian Government. It comprises a highly experienced senior team drawn from a wide range of commodity groups from across Australia and is backed by an industry advisory group representing experts from Western Australia, Northern Territory, Queensland, Victoria, South Australia and New South Wales.

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