Farmers will be empowered to establish cooperatives and adopt innovative business models to boost their bargaining position in the marketplace under the Coalition Government's $13.8 million Farm Co-operatives and Collaboration Pilot Program.
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources, Barnaby Joyce, Minister for Regional Development, Fiona Nash, and Member for Page, Kevin Hogan, announced today that Southern Cross University will deliver the co-operatives pilot program, delivering on the government's commitment in its $4 billion Agricultural Competitiveness White Paper to promote strong but fair competition throughout the agricultural supply chain.
"This national pilot program is all about enabling farmers to come together, whether in co-operatives or less formal collaborations, and work to improve farmgate returns," Minister Joyce said.
"Agricultural cooperatives allow farmers to own and control more of the food supply chain themselves—giving them greater bargaining power when it comes to negotiating with buyers of their produce.
"The further you reach down the supply chain the better returns received at the farm gate—it's that simple. It's better for the farmer, and it's better for local communities and the people who live and work there."
Minister Joyce said the Lismore based Southern Cross University was perfectly positioned to deliver the cooperatives pilot program nationally because of the experience, expertise and links built up over recent years through its partnership with the Northern Rivers Cooperatives Alliance and Regional Development Australia-Northern Rivers.
"The Farm Co-operatives and Collaboration program will benefit from the tried and tested business experience of Northern Rivers Cooperatives Alliance members Norco, Northern Cooperative Meat Company, NSW Sugar Milling Cooperative, Summerland Credit Union, Clarence River Fisherman's Cooperative and Ballina Fisherman's Cooperative, as well as utilising the Regional Development Australia network," Minister Joyce said.
"The program has evolved since it was announced in the Agricultural White Paper last year as a result of consultation undertaken by Kevin Hogan with a wide range of stakeholders, including the cooperatives industry.
"Industry consultation identified the potential for improved long term benefits of developing a centre of excellence in collaborative business models that can leverage off national regional development and educational networks."
Minister for Regional Development Fiona Nash congratulated the Deputy Prime Minister and Kevin Hogan for developing this fantastic initiative, saying it could potentially help further develop regional economies.
"As a producer myself I understand farmers are price takers, not price makers," Minister Nash said.
"This programme aims to give farmers tools to control their own destinies and could ultimately improve farmgate returns for farmers right across Australia."
Mr Hogan said he was pleased the Government would partner with Southern Cross University to deliver the cooperatives initiative.
"The Northern Rivers is synonymous with collaborative business structures," Mr Hogan said.
"I thank all those organisations across Australia who contributed to the consultation and had a very real part in improving the design of this pilot project.
"As a strong advocate for collaborative models that support small and family businesses, I am confident this initiative will help more businesses to succeed and grow jobs and the economies of regional areas."
Minister Joyce said over the coming months Southern Cross University will roll out dedicated education tools and resources, customised expert support and provide support to farmer groups interested in exploring cooperative business structures.
"The pilot program will deliver expert advice and information to up to 2,000 farmers and 100 farmer groups across the nation and will run until 30 June 2018," Minister Joyce said.
"The program includes $3.8 million earmarked for new farmer group projects. Groups of farmers will be able to submit proposals for new collaborations to a panel of industry experts, with successful applicants receiving funding support and a dedicated case worker to get their project off the ground."
Minister Joyce said in its recent inquiry into cooperative, mutual and member-owned forms, the all-party Senate Economics References Committee called on the government to encourage the establishment of new cooperatives and undertake a program of education about the role of cooperatives. This important program commences in a very positive way this task.
"This program is a great start to meeting that task, and a key part of the Coalition Government's $4 billion Agricultural Competitiveness White Paper which is helping strengthen Australian agriculture."
What can the program do for me?
There are many and varied examples of successful collaboration in agriculture in Australia. For some farmers, business arrangements such as collaborative farming, co-operative marketing or bargaining collectively with other farmers can improve their position. Others may wish to consider moving up or down the supply chain by establishing buying or selling co-operatives. Collaboration with businesses beyond the farm gate can also create great value for farmers.
The Australian Government has invested $14,934,000 (including GST) into Farming Together, the two year ‘Farm Co-operatives and Collaboration Pilot Program’.
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