The number of co-operatives operating in the agricultural sector has shrunk, but their combined turnover has risen to a three-year high at just over £7.9bn.
Co-operatives UK has produced its annual summary of the role of co-ops in the economy which reveals that a total of 434 farmer co-ops now operate in the UK – down from 440 the previous year.
The number of farmer members has also dropped by 1.8% to 153,486 after successive increases since 2015.
But the report also shows the importance of farmer co-ops to the “co-op economy”, with nine agricultural businesses featuring in the top 20 best performing UK co-ops by turnover.
In fact, agricultural co-ops are second only to the high-street retail sector in terms of turnover.
Retail’s dominance is not unexpected given it includes household names such as the Co-Op Group and the John Lewis Partnership.
Openfield, which is owned by 4,152 farmers and sells around 4 million tonnes of British grain every year, featured as the seventh-largest co-op in the UK and the second-largest of the farmer-owned co-ops, behind Arla Foods.
Ed Mayo, Co-operatives UK secretary general, said the economy could learn a lot from businesses such as Openfield.
“More co-ops can help pave the way for an economy that doesn’t just serve the rich – those already at the top of the food chain,” he said.
“Co-ops are more equitable; wealth is shared among members and they enrich the communities in which they operate.”
The 2019 report also reveals that co-ops are a resilient business model, with almost three out of four co-op start-ups (72%) still in operation after the first five years of existence.
In contrast, more than half of all new companies (57%) ceased to exist before reaching that same milestone.
Turnover of top 10 farming co-ops:
1. Arla Foods: £2.6bn
2. Openfield Group: £627m
3. Mole Valley Farmers: £491m
4. Dale Farm Co-operative: £482m
5. Berry Garden Growers: £346m
6. The AF group: £274m
7. First Milk: £248m
8. LacPatrick: £224m
9. Fram Farmers: £195m
10. United Oilseeds Producers: £156m