Brexit poses a particular challenge to the agricultural industry. Co-operatives UK is working with agricultural co-operatives to develop a co-ordinated approach, with a set of priority actions formulated at a Brexit roundtable for major agricultural co-ops.
Agriculture is one of the sectors of industry that will be most affected by the referendum decision to leave the EU. It will result in significant changes to international trade, financial support, farm profitability and agricultural policy. Most countries recognise the benefits of co-operatives in primary food production and this has resulted in many very large and strong international co-operatives. For a host of various historical reasons, the level of farm inputs and outputs going through UK farmer-owned co-operatives is perceived to be low compared to our competitors.
Brexit gives our farmer and grower co-operatives a real opportunity to secure a major role in helping the industry post-Brexit. To start to explore the options and opportunities Co-operatives UK brought together a roundtable of senior staff and directors representing 14 of our major farmer groups. The session got the latest feedback from the NFU on its major Brexit consultation, heard its plans on policy development and got input from a senior independent economist, Derrick Wilkinson, on the implications for the sector if the UK cannot reach a preferential trade agreement with the UK.
Key conclusions from Brexit roundtable
- The EU Exit creates both threats and opportunities for agricultural co-operatives
- If no preferential, bi-lateral, Free Trade Agreement can be reached with the EU, the threat to the industry is significantly increased, although this might result in increased opportunity for farmer co-operatives
- Agricultural co-ops are in a unique position to help the industry and the government address future challenges and to make the most of opportunities
- If agricultural co‑operatives work together, they can be much more effective in enhancing their position with farmers and growers, government, other industry stakeholders and the public
- A communications plan is needed whereby agricultural co-operatives demonstrate how they can offer solutions to the challenges, facilitate change within the industry and help make the industry profitable and sustainable
- Co-operatives UK is well placed to independently facilitate this on behalf of its members.
Actions required and next steps
- Draft a paper summarising the key issues for presentation to Defra and to other stakeholders (e.g. NFU and the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board), with meeting with the farming minister in the diary
- Investigate if there will be benefit from aligning with EU co-operatives on key issues around future trade
- Develop ideas around a potential joint communications plan for consideration by Co‑operative UK members
- Organise a wider forum event of agricultural co-operatives in early 2017 to initiate the campaign
- Recruit more co-operatives to get involved to increase momentum and weight. Existing Co-operative UK and SAOS members can help promote this
- Ensure that co-operation and collaboration features heavily through any new future plan for food and farming
Richard Self is Co-operatives UK's agricultural manager.
Agricultural co-operatives in membership of Co-operatives UK are invited to contact Richard to discuss collective lobbying efforts on Brexit.
Agricultural co-operatives not in membership but interested in becoming involved should also contact Richard.