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“It gives a lot more power back to the farmer.” – First Milk co-op

Case study

Published
17th June 2021
Topic
What is a co-op?
Image
Farmer and cows
First Milk gives farmers power (photographer Robin Mitchell)

First Milk is a farmer-owned dairy co-op that produces cheese and dairy ingredients and markets fresh milk through collaborative sourcing and supply chain management.

Its 800 members are the farmers who supply their milk to the co-op, which distributes it to dairy manufacturers across the UK. David Struthers – owner of Auchmeddan Farm in Lesmahagow, Scotland – is one of those members.

He joined forces with his father in 2010 and between them they have two farms, two miles apart, which they run as one business. Their 450 cows produce just under four million litres of milk a year.

For David, being a co-op member is good for business.

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As a farmer, it makes you feel more secure. It’s nice to know you’re not selling your product to another company. You have a concern in running the business and you know where your milk is going.
– David Struthers – owner of Auchmeddan Farm in Lesmahagow, Scotland
Remote video URL
Watch a short video clip of farmer David Struthers and First Milk

He joined forces with his father in 2010 and between them they have two farms, two miles apart, which they run as one business. Their 450 cows produce just under four million litres of milk a year.

For David, being a co-op member is good for business. “As a farmer, it makes you feel more secure,” he says. “It’s nice to know you’re not selling your product to another company. You have a concern in running the business and you know where your milk is going.

“Other milk processors do what they want because they’re not co-operatives. If First Milk does things we don’t like, we have our say with them. You have much more control.”

With hundreds of members, First Milk ensures their voices are heard through their Member Council. This consists of seven farmer members and an independent chair. The Member Council’s role is to oversee the co-op’s board and ensure the business acts in the best interest of its members, whilst maintaining its co-operative principles.

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Having a say in First Milk is very important. It means that we can make sure that the business isn’t running away with itself in the wrong direction – we can make it work for us. There are no shareholders putting pressure on the board, nor one single owner demanding profit all the time.
– David Struthers

As a co-op member, David is an also investor in First Milk, which uses member investment to benefit the business, most recently by upgrading factories and reducing debt. “We can really help the business work for us,” David explains.

For him, being part of a co-op gives him strength in numbers. “It’s good having a co-operative community, the more co-operative the better. Most of the dairy farms in Europe are part of co-ops. Supermarkets can be absolutely ruthless. It gives a lot more power back to the farmer.

“They are run for you, to benefit you personally. And having the community is nice. It can be hard to get people to work together but you have a lot more power in a joined-up industry like farming when you’re up against the big supermarkets.

 

Learn more

Find out more about farmer co-operative First Milk