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The Co-op Dairy Group is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year. Cheshire farmer Andy Venables explains what the Group is, how it benefits British farmers and what it means to be a part of it.
What is the Co-op Dairy Group?
The Co-op Dairy Group allows dairy farmers in the UK to share ideas and best practices. There are approximately 170 farmers supplying milk to Co-op, with six or seven regional representatives. Being part of the Group means we get a guaranteed price for every litre of milk we produce, and it provides us with the tools to invest in more sustainable farming methods.
I genuinely feel that working with the Co-op Dairy Group is a co-operative partnership – a two-way relationship between the farmer and the retailer. I’m passionate about milk and the part our farm plays to produce such a nutritious* product for Co-op.
A fairer price for all
As a supplier of milk to Co-op, we have a strong level of stability. Co-op commits to a fair price for milk for three months at a time. Knowing what my income will be means I have the confidence to invest in my farm.
During the pandemic, many farmers had no one to buy their milk when restaurants and coffee shops closed. The market price dropped through the floor, but Co-op stuck to the price it had agreed and allowed us to ride out lockdown, which I’m really grateful for.
Being part of a community
Farming can be a lonely job, so it has helped to be part of a network of farmers – we support each other. I’ve been a member of the Co-op Dairy Group since it started, and it’s a great way to be involved in how things are run, as well as an opportunity to learn. I sit on a Co-op farmer committee to discuss any changes and we have a real voice in the bigger business. We’re looking not only at what helps Co-op, but how farmers benefit, too.
The Group also runs sessions on topics of interest, including one recently on mental health. This isn’t something we farmers often talk about, so encouraging people to discuss these issues has been very helpful.
Having this community of farmers through the Co-op Dairy Group means we learn from each other, and it definitely helps us improve our businesses. We’ve reduced carbon emissions this year by sharing information, new technologies and comparing ourselves against similar farms to see how we can improve.
It’s this security – from knowing we will be able to maintain our income – that means we can invest in the highest welfare standards and develop more sustainable farms. It encourages and challenges us to grow.
Managing director of Hills Green Farm and rural marketing agency Hillsgreen