Co-operatives are active in all parts of Australia’s agricultural economy, helping farmers to compete in ways that they could not do alone.
Grain co-operatives provide a wide range of services for individual grain farmers, from seed and fertiliser supply to securing the best crop price and shipping to markets. The largest single co-operative in Australia is Co-operative Bulk Handling (CBH Group), which handles and markets grain crops from nearly 4,000 farms.
Livestock co-operatives help farmers to produce some of the best quality meat products in the world. Beef, lamb, pork, chicken and other animals are reared on individual farms and brought to market by the co-operatives. The animals are processed in the co-operative facilities, where they are prepared for shipment to markets across Australia and overseas.
Dairy co-operatives help to ensure that farmers get a fair farm gate price for the milk their herds produce. Milk volumes are combined from individual farms for processing and packaging for markets. Milk, cream and cheese products are manufactured to add value to the raw materials, supplying major supermarkets and overseas markets and returning the profit from this production to the farmer-owners.
Fruit and vegetable co-operatives help growers from all parts of Australia to get their produce onto supermarket shelves. All parts of the logistics process, from the farm to packaging facilities, are conducted by the co-op. Co-operatives also provide scientific support on crop-maximising technology, developing new varieties, storage and pest control.
Fishing co-operatives play a significant part in supporting Australia’s commercial fishing fleet. Fishers may own just a single vessel but through the co-operative they are able to combine their catch and access processing and marketing services to supply their own fisher owned brands. The co-op helps them to get their produce into global seafood markets.
Forestry co-operatives help individual foresters to process, market and sell their timber and timber products in the global marketplace. Wood supply from small landholders has a long and successful history in New Zealand and Scandinavia and could be a major positive step for Australian farmers.
Farm supplies co-operatives help to minimise input costs and secure the supply chain. These co-operatives a full range of rural merchandise and supplies to Australian farmers, some expanding their offering to include agronomist advice and support regarding livestock production, crop maximisation and water trading.
Irrigation co-operatives supply local growers with water, with some also distributing stock and garden water to blocks in the community. These co-ops have often been created from a transfer from Government ownership. A co-operative is an ideal vehicle for ensuring that the business remains true to its purpose of providing efficient and equitable water supplies at the lowest cost possible.
Many Australian agricultural businesses rely on their co-operative to keep them profitable and in business. Across Australia, the Business Council of Cooperatives and Mutuals (BCCM) has identified 229 agri-business co-operatives, 189 of which are involved in farming, fishing or forestry and 40 of which are irrigation and water co-operatives.
These 229 co-operatives represent 23,909 individual members, each of which are separate agricultural businesses employing many more people. They can be a family farm looking after thousands of hectares, a fisher with one or more vessels or fishing licences or an individual grower member of an irrigation co-operative.
16,558 farms out of out of 89,4008 are members of an agricultural co-operative. When membership of irrigation co-ops is added, we estimate that almost a quarter of all Australian agricultural businesses are members of at least one farming, fishing or forestry co-op.
Every member of an agricultural co-operative is a business in its own right, and an employer and commercial player in its region’s economy. As a private business, it will form part of the economic backbone of Australia, contributing to domestic economic growth and export earnings whilst paying income, payroll and property taxes.