Interest in co-operative farming is increasing with experts crediting some of the rise to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, as more farmers seek collaborative agribusiness models in order to future-proof their farms.

Part of a $2.5 million government grant aimed at increasing awareness and education of co-operative farming, Co-operative Conversations is an online video series targeted at primary producers hoping to start, join or grow a farming co-operative. Producers hope that the series will inspire other farmers and help give them a competitive advantage.

CEO of the Business Council of Co-operatives and Mutuals, Melina Morrison said they had noticed a COVID-inspired increase in people seeking information about cooperative farming, via the organisation’s dedicated hotline and through other educational initiatives such as the online series. “During the pandemic, farmers are realising the need to have a look into different business models, and more and more farmers are interested in the co-operative model,” she said. “We’ve seen a huge groundswell of interest in finding out about co-operative farming. Often a farming cooperative has formed from adversity in the first place so it is no surprise really that the model is being looked at in these challenging times.”

She said the success of co-operative farming was best seen through the stories of the innovative and engaged farmers featured in the series. These included Mountain Milk’s Stuart Crosthwaite, Sweeter Bananas Doriana Mangili, Northern Co-operative Meat Company’s John Seccombe and Natalie Browning from CBH.

One of the major benefits of co-operative farming as discussed in the series included that community ownership of supply chains helped to minimise risk in times of crisis – the supply chain is shorter and there are less people clipping the ticket on the way through. Farmers also spoke of the collective advantage of co-operatives increasing market power and scale, capital raising opportunities, community resilience and knowledge sharing. Said Melina Morrison: “If you just take the opportunities in manufacturing and export as examples, co-operatives help farmers to act like big players but stay smaller and independent at the farm-gate. It’s a win-win for the farmer and the broader economy.”

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