Arla dairy truck© Tim Scrivener

Increasing numbers of farmers are choosing to be a member of a co-operative, according to an annual ‘state of the co-operative sector’ report.

The UK co-operative economy 2017 report shows that more than 152,000 farmers are now a member of an agricultural co-operative, which is up nearly 2% on 2016 membership levels.

The report said that last year the UK’s 434 farming co-ops turned over £7.4bn, making it the second largest industry sector in the co-operative economy.

See also: UK’s biggest farming co-ops ranked by turnover [2015 results]

As Britain continues with the Brexit negotiations and developing a new agricultural policy, the role of co-operatives could become even more important than ever, it added.

The report said that dairy co-operatives such as Arla and OMSCo demonstrated how farmers could benefit from membership of a co-op.

Both were adding value to their members’ supply by creating new products, developing strong brands and exporting to international markets.

“Arla in the UK, for example, exports to 81 countries,” it said.

Other successful co-ops highlighted by the report include Berry Garden Growers, a co-op of berry and cherry producers, which grew by 14% last year, taking its turnover over £300m for the first time to £319m.

Simon Ward, economist with The Policy Group, said that food and agriculture had been hit hard by global gluts and political uncertainty.

“Individual farmers can often find it hard to ride economic change, but co-operatives are well placed to identify and understand the opportunities created by changes in tariffs (frequently 50% of the product price) and quality standards.

“Abetted by the weak pound, co-ops have an unprecedented opportunity to improve member profits.”

Agricultural co-operatives feature among the largest in the UK – taking four of the top ten slots when ranked by turnover. Other co-ops that feature in the top 20 include First Milk, Berry Garden Growers and Anglia Farmers.

Top 10 co-operatives in the UK ranked by turnover

Co-operative  Turnover  Year end date
John Lewis Partnership PLC   £10,026,200,000 28.1.17
Co-op Group Limited  £9,472,000,000 31.12.16
Arla Foods UK   £2,158,000,000 31.12.16
National Merchant Buying Society Limited   £1,393,830,000 31.12.15
The Midcounties Co-operative   £979,232,000 28.1.17
Central England Co-operative Limited   £805,769,000 28.1.17
Openfield Group Limited   £710,399,000 30.6.16
Fane Valley Co-operative Society Limited   £476,148,000 30.9.15
Mole Valley Farmers Limited  £422,119,000  30.9.15
Dale Farm Co-operative Limited   £421,482,000 31.3.15