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.