Co-op cuts force sink, swim

Federal funding cuts a slap in the face to co-operative farming and rural business innovation


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Michael Taylor,“The Hill” via Kentucky, produces ethical Merino wool and markets part of it through a start-up co-operative nursed by the Farming Together program. Now, with no further pilot funding, infant agricultural co-operatives will be left to sink, or swim.

Michael Taylor,“The Hill” via Kentucky, produces ethical Merino wool and markets part of it through a start-up co-operative nursed by the Farming Together program. Now, with no further pilot funding, infant agricultural co-operatives will be left to sink, or swim.

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Federal cuts to the Farming Together program sends "sink or swim" message to fledgling co-operative agriculture

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The highly successful Farm Co-operatives and Collaboration pilot project has lost future federal funding, with the two year program winding up after June 30.

The innovative project, based out of  Lismore’s Southern Cross University has fostered 50 new farmer groups, including co-operatives, who have accessed $5.5m in funding. There are 180 collaborative groups in the program’s system, who access templates and services.

Project director Lorraine Gordon has said the “Farming Together” program was a nation-wide campaign for primary producers and processors to collaborate and claim marketplace power.

Bowral wool producer and marketer Andrew Ross started a new ethical merino growers’ co-operative using block chain technology to trace correct production. He said the Federal Government has lost sight of the realities behind start-up agriculture projects.

“Co-operatives need on-going mentoring and industry support,” he said.

“Agriculture is a seasonal occupation and the test and learn cycle can be quite long. The one-off funding model is contrary to how the industry works.  Australia’s natural advantage is in agriculture and we need to invest in that.”

Carolyn Suggate from the Victorian based Organic and Regenerative Investment Co-operative said the Farming Together program had been an “amazing innovation” that helped grow her organisation to 140 members and beyond since their March launch.

“Collaboration is really important for small producers,” she said. “Support from the program through expert advice was an amazing innovation and it was really short sighted of government to not continue the funding.”

Sam, Byrne, secretary of the state’s peak co-operative body, said the program helped foster improved marketing and purchasing powers to make regional businesses stronger and more profitable.

“Why plant new seeds and not water them?” he asked. “A number of our groups would have benefited from further support.”

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