9 November 2001

Co-ops can compete

FARM co-ops hold the key to helping producers trade on equal terms with large-scale retailers, NFU president, Ben Gill, told north-east farmers last week.

"A major size imbalance between small farming operations and the rest of the food chain, dominated by big companies, means there have to be more co-operatives," said Mr Gill at NFU Stokesley and Cleveland AGM. "Co-ops already in existence have to increase in size," he added.

While acknowledging the difficulties of effective co-operation, Mr Gill warned against letting what he described as "petty jealousies" stand in the way of progress. "Farmers may say they want to retain their independence, but making money is much more important."

More could be done to ensure the success of farm co-ops including the recruitment of top class staff, he said. To improve profitability, the food chain should be shortened. "Farmers have traditionally defended other people in the food chain because they were friends and acquaintances but these people are taking our money," said Mr Gill.

He also expressed disappointment at the governments lack of support for UK farmers. "We need commercial appreciation by government of the issues we face, but that has been sadly lacking for a long time. The government has been blundering around willy-nilly and there are too many different measures of support."

The increasing popularity of non-food crops would radically change UK agriculture within the next 20 years, he predicted. The union was making progress with its campaign to secure designated funds for non-food crop investment and Mr Gill expected exciting opportunities to grow non-food crops for a wide variety of uses. He also pointed to the governments objective to have most of the UKs fuel needs met by renewable energy in future as grounds for optimism.