The Co-operative has announced a £5m boost for British farmers who supply its own-brand fresh meat, poultry and milk.The premiums will go to members of The Co-operative’s farming groups which were launched in order to back British farmers and agriculture, and to cement relationships with producers, deliver a continued investment in quality and provide shoppers with a more consistent and transparent supply chain.They also help maintain The Co-operative’s strict animal welfare policies and encourage long-term investment in, and improvements to, farm efficiencies, training and sustainability.The five protein farming groups, which launched in June 2013, are based on five pillars of achievement: “health, welfare and quality”, “Co-operative brand”, “sustainability”, “environmental” and “ethical and training” - two of which are mandatory. There are six farming groups in total, including dairy – which is not aligned to the pillar model – who will all share the premium payment.All the farms need to meet strict and sustained “health, welfare and quality” standards for the first pillar, and also attend events with other farmers and representatives from The Co-operative, to discuss and exchange best practice, as part of the “Co-operative brand” pillar. Farms that meet these two mandatory pillars are classed as “Bronze” farms.The further three pillars represent sustainability (which includes alternative energy and energy conservation), the environment (which includes carbon footprint self-assessments) and ethical and training (which includes apprenticeships and memberships to professional bodies, such as the PIPR). Farms need to meet four pillars to secure silver standard and all five to achieve gold.Almost 10 per cent (55 farms out of 599) of the five protein farming group farms have progressed through the pillars to achieve “silver” or “gold” status, since it launched last year. They, along with the dairy group, which launched in 2011 and now includes 207 farms, will share £4,928,627.46 in premium payments.Steve Murrells, Chief Executive – Food Retail, The Co-operative Group, said: “The Co-operative has a long history of supporting the UK’s farming industry, and is committed to backing British farmers by continuing to work closely with them to drive quality, consistency and value. Our farming groups initiative has been a resounding success and these farmers, who are just as passionate about British meat, poultry and milk as we are, and are committed to our standards for quality, health and welfare, are starting to reap their just rewards. The scheme has delivered significant benefits to the farmers, The Co-operative and its customers, and ensures our fresh British protein and milk is delivered to the highest standards possible. The farming groups are also improving and demonstrating best practice, whilst also delivering profitable returns for farmers and high quality, traceable, fresh British meat, poultry and milk for our customers.”All The Co-operative’s own-brand fresh standard chicken, fresh standard pork, Hampshire breed pork, Hereford and Aberdeen Angus premium beef and premium Cambrian lamb are all now sourced from the five protein farming groups. Further incentives, such as inclusion in bulk feed schemes and medicine groups, which may result in cheaper and better deals for these items, are also available for all the tiered farms achieving silver and gold.NFU President, Meurig Raymond, said: “The Co-operative’s launch last year of five farming groups for beef, lamb and poultry suppliers has been a positive step for the industry. Producer groups like these foster stronger relationships with the farmers involved and ensure that retailers are able to provide more consistent products for consumers, which in turn, guarantees more British food on more British plates. It is good to see the Co-operative rewarding their producers for their achievements against the standards set last year. “It is important that retailers continue to ensure that these initiatives are applied across other farming sectors, including fresh produce. Horticulture is one of the most important visible and profitable categories for retailers and the NFU will be working with retailers, including The Co-operative, to ensure that these values are upheld across all UK farming sectors."