The UK’s farmers must stand united to combat the threat of multi-national corporations in the food supply chain, says Tim Wilson, CEO of Aspatria Farmers.
The number of farming co-operatives in the UK has dropped for the fourth time in five years, from 440 in 2018 to 434 in 2019. The Co-op Economy (published today, 28 August), produced by Co-operatives UK, finds that the number of farmer owners has fallen by 1.8%, to 153,486, though overall turnover is up to £7.9 billion (£7,901,313,984) from £7.8 billion (£7,751,807,185).
Tim Wilson is CEO of 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. He said: “The supply chain is getting controlled by fewer and fewer players who all want to take more money out of farmers’ pockets.”
Mr Wilson believes a united farming sector, with an increased number of farmer co-ops and more farmer members, is crucial to establishing more farmer influence and control.
The UK’s use of the co-operative business model in the farming sector remains at a fraction of the levels found in the EU and other nations which could become competitors post-Brexit. Farming co-ops account for a total domestic agriculture market share of just 6%. That figure pales in comparison to other European nations like Spain (45%), France (55%) and the Netherlands (68%).
Farming co-ops are not just about buying and power and economies of scale according to Mr Wilson.
“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.”
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 according to Co-operatives UK’s Agriculture Manager Richard Self.
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.”