The number of farmer owned coops in the UK has dropped for the fourth time in five years as the UK industry lags behind its European counterparts.
The Co-op Economy report, produced by sector body Co-operatives UK, revealed the number of co-operatives had dropped to 434, with the number of farmer owners down 1.8 per cent.
However, overall turnover was up to £7.9 billion from £7.8bn in 2018.
And the UK was lagging behind the rest of Europe on the use of the co-operative business model, with farming co-ops having a market share of just 6 per cent.
Tim Wilson, chief executive of Aspatria Farmers, which has 900 members across Cumbria, the north east and south-west Scotland, said the supply chain was being controlled by ‘fewer and fewer players who all want to take more money out of farmers’ pockets’.
But he believed a united farming sector was crucial to establishing more farmer influence and control.
“There is a need to get our act together and demonstrate that by co-operating we are stronger together,” he said.
He added co-ops were not just about buying power and economies of scale, but could help farmers manage an ‘increasingly complex business’.
“Most farmers are time precious,” he said.
“You have farmers managing a farm twice the size that their ancestors managed – with half the personnel. By learning better practices, by innovating, by co-operating better, we will all do our jobs better.”
He added without successful customers, co-operatives did not have successful businesses.
Increasing farmers’ control over their produce was not about maximising profits, but was 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 a lack of co-operation had created an ‘imbalance of power’ in the supply chain, weighted 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,” he added.