With farmers facing a range of pressures – from climate change and Covid-19 to Brexit – the Prince of Wales has highlighted the value of the co-op model to help them survive.
Writing in the Guardian, Prince Charles said family farmers “form the backbone of our rural communities”, supplying high-quality food and helping to tend the countryside.
But he warned that agriculture is entering a “massive transition” – and the country has already lost more than 110,000 smaller family farms since 1990.
“Most of these farms are run by one or two people,” he wrote. “Unlike the larger farms, they often don’t have the time or the resources to seek advice. The changes coming are huge and the way we help our farmers manage our soils, hedgerows and grazing livestock, and develop local supply chains, holds the key to biodiversity gain, carbon sequestration and water management, all of which are directly linked to our own health and wellbeing.
“I believe there is strength in numbers and have often thought the best way to secure a viable future for these smaller family farms would be for them to come together in some sort of co-operative. While there seems to be some deep-seated aversion to farmer co-operatives in this country (I have tried my best over the years to encourage and establish them, but to little effect), they work well in many parts of Europe. And new times demand new thinking.”
The Prince said that modern communication technology can help drive this co-operation, offering better connection to markets and to sources of advice.
He added: “There are small farms the world over that could come together in a global co-operative committed to producing food based on the principles set out in my Terra Carta, a charter for nature, people and planet: high environmental standards, using native breeds – of animals and plants – producing healthy, nutritious food that enhances nature and the wellbeing of rural communities and consumers.
“With the skills of ethical entrepreneurs and a determination from the farmers to make it work, I would like to think it could provide a very real and hopeful future for a sector that to me should be celebrated and encouraged for its vital importance to food security, community security and cultural security.”