The number of farming co-operatives in the UK has dropped for the fourth time in five years, from 440 in 2018 to 434.
According to the latest Co-operative Economy Report published by Co-operatives UK, the number of farmer owners has fallen by 1.8%, to 153,486, though overall turnover is up to £7.9bn (£7,901,313,984) from £7.8bn (£7,751,807,185).
In light of the report’s findings, the sector is calling on farmers to stand united to combat the threat of multi-national corporations in the food supply chain. Among those responding to the report’s findings is Aspatria Farmers, a farmer-owned co-op, which sources farming supplies for its 900 members operating across Cumbria, the north east and south-west Scotland.
CEO Tim Wilson said: “The supply chain is getting controlled by fewer and fewer players who all want to take more money out of farmers’ pockets.”
He added: “There’s a need to get our act together and demonstrate that by co-operating we are stronger together.”
The UK lags behind other European countries when it comes to the market share of farming co-ops, currently at just 6%. By contrast, farming co-ops have a 45% market share in Spain, 55% in France and 68% in the Netherlands.
Mr Wilson added: “A co-op can also help farmers manage an increasingly complex business. Most farmers are time precious. You’ve got farmers managing a farm twice the size that their ancestors managed – with half the personnel. By learning better practices, by innovating, by co-operating better, we’ll all do our jobs better.
“Everybody who comes up a farmer’s drive is going to take money out of the farmer’s pocket. If you’re part of a co-op then the farming expert who comes up your drive is going to try to make the farmer more money. Without successful customers, you don’t have successful businesses.”
Co-operatives UK’s agriculture manager Richard Self also thinks that increasing farmers’ control over their produce is not about maximising profits, but is crucial to a farmer’s ability to innovate and create a sustainable business.
He said: “Lack of co-operation and collaboration has helped create an imbalance of power within the supply chain, weighted heavily towards the retailers and dominant food processors. This, in turn, means primary producers struggle to have the financial return necessary to invest in new technology and skills.”