The Labour Party has proposed an amendment to the UK Agricultural Bill, so that it includes specific measures to support the co-op model.
MPs said co-ops can help create more resilient agricultural communities. Their changes to the bill would provide grant and loan funding to co-operatives and place a new duty on ministers to promote the sector’s expansion, which they say would safeguard the long-term viability of British farming.
Co-ops play an important role in the UK’s agricultural sector. More than 140,000 British farmers are members and co-owners of over 400 agricultural co-operatives, with a combined turnover of £7.7bn. Joining a co-op can enable small-scale farmers to save costs, share best practice, retain value throughout the supply chain and market their products.
Labour/ Co‑op MP and shadow farming and rural affairs minister David Drew said: “Labour’s commitment to doubling the size of the co-operative sector is particularly important in farming, where co-operative models are key to tackling the commercialisation of our countryside, creating a fairer and more resilient sector, and ensuring consumers get good value, good quality British food in supermarkets. This amendment puts a new duty on the government to promote and support co-operatives in British farming after Brexit.”
One of the UK’s largest agricultural co-operatives, Arla has over 2,400 UK farmer owners. Andrew Barraclough, one of its dairy farmers in Cumbria, said: “Membership of a co-operative ensures that farmer owners receive a fair price and are helped to remain viable even in times of market uncertainty.
“Membership of Arla brings with it practical support and advice, and being a co-operative ensures the profits the company generates are retained by the farmers and shared equally among its farmer owners both here in Britain and abroad. Steps to maintain and expand the role of co-operatives can only be a good thing for the long-term future of the agricultural economy in our country.”
James Graham, chief executive of the Scottish Agricultural Organisation Society, said the amendment “marks an important moment for all in the agricultural co-op sector”.
He added: “For the first time, in a long time, it acknowledges that co-ops are different from other businesses, with different and distinct needs. Hopefully, this will lead to the provision of supportive policies that accommodate those needs, and align policy support with industry strategies. It remains a little unclear as to whether and how the provision might apply to Scotland, as agriculture policy is devolved. However, we are in dialogue with the Scottish government along the same lines.”
The amendment has been tabled and was due for debate on 15 November. The Bill committee voted to adjourn the debate in light of the publication of the draft Brexit agreement.
The proposed amendment to the Agriculture Bill relating to co-operatives has not been adopted in the final version of the Bill dated 21/11/18.