UK farmer co-operatives decline for fifth consecutive year

The UK's decline in farmer co-ops is in stark contrast with  European neighbours
The UK's decline in farmer co-ops is in stark contrast with European neighbours

The number of farmer co-operatives operating in the UK has fallen for the fifth consecutive year, down to 420 from a 2014 high of 445.

The Co-operative Economy has been published today (26 June), and shows that there are now 7,226 independent co-operatives operating across the UK, with a combined turnover of £36.1 billion – up more than £800 million on 2017 levels.

But co-ops are declining within the agricultural industry. The number of farmer owners overall is also in decline, with a drop of 2.6% to 142,999.

This trend is in stark contrast with the UK's European neighbours and important farming nations further afield.

The market share of the UK’s farming co-operatives, at just 6%, is a fraction of other European Union nations including Germany (45%) and France (55%).

Those nations with a stronger market share are experiencing stronger growth, with the United States Department of Agriculture reporting that the UK achieved an average annual growth in ‘total factor productivity’ of 0.8% from 2001 to 2012.

This compares unfavourably with France (1.7%), Germany (1.8%) and the United States (2%) over the same period.

Defra recognises that the UK is significantly out of step with its international competitors and, following concerted lobbying efforts from Co-operatives UK and its farmer members, is supporting more collaboration in the sector.

The announcement of a £10 million government fund to support farmer co-operation arrived in early 2018. However, the report says more support is required to reverse the trend of declining farmer co-op numbers.