Co-ops are the key to keeping Welsh farming strong after Brexit

'With more and more uncertainty over future funding for the industry after the UK leaves the EU, could farmers look at cutting costs by collaborating with one another?'

A recent report by the Wales Co-operative Centre warns the country’s agri-co-op sector is lagging behind Ireland and Scotland, and calls for measures to boost its strength after Brexit.

The research, funded by the Welsh government and the European Regional Development Fund, involved interviews with agriculture stakeholders and co-op businesses.

Scotland and Ireland each have more than 60 formally constituted co-ops in the agriculture sector – covering crops, horticulture, dairy and agricultural supply – but Wales is home to only 22, it found.

Derek Walker, chief executive of the Wales Co-operative Centre, said: “We have some well-established co-operatives in Wales such as the South Caernarfon Creameries and Clynderwen and Cardiganshire Farmers, but we need to work harder with organisations who are engaged with the agri-food sector and help develop programmes where co-operation and collaboration are key features.

“With more and more uncertainty over future funding for the industry after the UK leaves the EU, could farmers look at cutting costs by collaborating with one another in vital business areas like purchasing, processing and marketing?”

He added: “Take Scotland and Ireland. They believe their farmers can preserve their independence and grow by co-operating to secure gains that may not be available if acting independently of each other. They believe collaboration within the food and drink supply chains generates additional value for all participants by developing transparency and trust and reducing uncertainty and risk. And the proof is in the pudding with the SAOS members collective turnover around the £2bn mark and the ICOS members combined turnover hitting almost €15bn.”

Respondents to the survey said there is a lack of business support for new and existing and co-operatives in the agri-food sector in Wales. Due to funding constraints, the Wales Co-operative Centre has not been active in supporting this sector since 2004.

Richard Self, Co-operatives UK’s agricultural manager, said: “Increasing the market share of well-run agricultural co-operatives in the food and farming sector helps to make primary producers more profitable, supply chains more efficient and reduces volatility in the markets.

“It is important that farmer / grower co-operatives have the right support available to maximise their potential and the benefit they return to their members. Co-operatives UK supports all types of co-operatives and will be pleased to work with the Wales Co-operative Centre to make sure that this support is available to as many Welsh agricultural co-operatives as possible.”

The full Co-operative development in the Welsh agri-food sector report is available here.

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