Co-op Farming Pioneers discuss the future of agriculture

The Co-op Group hosted the debate on the industry at the Great Yorkshire Show, looking at issues such as succession planning and supply chain relationships

Young farmers from across the country engaged with sector leaders during a debate on the future of the industry hosted by the Co-op Group at the Great Yorkshire Show.

The round table featured senior food sector and farming leaders, including Jo Whitefield, the new chief executive of Co-op Food, and Minette Batters, deputy president of the National Farmers Union and British Food Fortnight ambassador.

Six farmers involved in the Group’s Farming Pioneers Programme also took part. Caroline Morris, Ross Towers, Joe Geraighty, Richard Gardner, Paul Billington and Andy Venables are among 60 young farmers participating in the Co-op Farming Pioneers Programme, a national training course.

The debate looked at key issues including supply chain relationships, succession planning, farming as a career and how children can be better educated about where their food comes from.

The Farming Pioneer Programme was launched last year to coach and develop young farmers in the Group’s supply chain.

The programme, which lasts 30 months and brings together young farmers to share experiences, was designed to offer the knowledge and skills needed to develop resilient businesses.

The Group supports three other projects which help farmers: Farm to Fork, Open Farm Sunday and Farmers Apprentice.

Ciara Gorst, the Group’s head of agriculture, said: “Today’s round table has prompted very interesting and in-depth discussions on a wide range of issues. It’s been fantastic to give our farming pioneers this platform to talk openly about the opportunities and challenges that lay ahead within the retail and agricultural industries – they are an essential part of our supply chain and it’s imperative we all work together.”

Andy Venables, of Springbank Farm in Macclesfield, Cheshire, added: “This has been a unique opportunity to discuss real issues and opportunities that face the agricultural industry. The fact that the Co-op brought together its most senior stakeholders, along with the NFU, shows that as a retailer it’s taking its commitments to farmers seriously and helps us all, as a supply chain, to work together more closely and effectively for the good of the industry and consumers.”

Alexia Robinson, founder of British Food Fortnight, said that ensuring a steady flow of new talent into the British food and farming sector was essential.

“We commend the Co-op for investing in its pioneers’ programme,” she added. “British Food Fortnight gives us a unique opportunity to celebrate all of the many food initiatives, projects and events that take place every day across Britain and we look forward to championing the Co-op’s scheme as part of our festivities this September.”

Harriet Wilson, the Group’s senior agricultural manager, said: “The Co-op Farming Pioneers Programme is part of our long-term commitment to supporting British agriculture which ultimately enables us to give our consumers the very highest quality home-grown produce that we know is so important to them.

“It’s imperative that we future-proof the farming industry and schemes like this can really help to develop the next generation of farming talent as well as highlighting roles within the agricultural sector to those that may never originally have thought about it.”

  • This focus on British Food is supported by East of England Co-op, the largest independent retailer in East Anglia with more than 230 branches across Norfolk, Suffolk, Essex and Cambridgeshire. It runs a wide range of businesses, including food retail, funeral, travel, pharmacy, Post Offices, opticians and investment property. It is owned by more than 288,000 members and in 2017 members shared a dividend of more than £3 million.
  • Find more coverage on co-ops and British Food Fortnight here.