Blog article

Making the case for agricultural co-ops in Defra

The public policy case for co-operation in agriculture seems stronger than ever. Inside the EU the Commission is making noises about strengthening the role of agricultural co-operatives in redressing imbalances in power in supply chains. Meanwhile in Brexit Britain, reports from the AHDB on how farmers can cope outside the EU suggest an urgent need to step up collaboration and co-operation in order to improve their efficiency, commercial savvy and resilience.

On behalf of our members, we have highlighted to Defra how out of step the UK is with its international competitors. Evidence shows that the UK lags behind EU competitors in terms of co-operative market share, with a significant knock-on effect around volatility and financial return for primary producers. This has led to a recent meeting with the George Eustice to discuss the practical steps to be included in the new food and farming policy to support and facilitate better use of the co-operative model within the sector. 

"There is a growing feeling that Defra needs to start giving the food and farming industry clearer signals of intent."

We are asking the Minister for the following:

  • Support schemes to help co-operatives develop and grow
  • New schemes that are designed to improve sector productivity have rules and / or scoring systems that favour co-operatives and collaboration
  • The European Union Withdrawal Bill protects the position of UK co-operatives in law and seeks to enhance this position as the UK develops policy post Brexit
  • To support a campaign that will help promote the benefits of collaboration and co-operation to farmers and growers, and to food and farming supply chains

Right now the ball is in Defra's court. The department has done a lot of informal consulting since the EU Referendum and Co-operatives UK has been closely involved in this. We're in regular contact with civil servants and are in dialogue with the Farming Minister and even the Secretary of State. However, there is a growing feeling that Defra needs to start giving the food and farming industry clearer signals of intent. 

"Brexit is a big opportunity for co-operatives to play a major role in reshaping our food and farming industry."

At our last meeting with the Minister, he asked Co-operatives UK for criteria to judge ‘proper’ co-operatives, so that this can be used in the development of new schemes. This is encouraging and we will be providing this to them in the coming weeks.

As I have said many times since the referendum, Brexit is a big opportunity for co-operatives to play a major role in reshaping our food and farming industry. Your support as members is critical in helping us to influence government.The more support we have from agricultural co-operatives, the more impact we will have on government policy.


If you have any comments, questions or ideas to help us with our agricultural co-operative policy work with Defra please contact me.

Written by Richard Self
Updated: 08/11/2017