Doubling the size of the co‑operative sector in our countryside

In this week's committee debate on the Government's Agriculture Bill, I argued that more co-operatives would deliver a fairer and more resilient sector which works for farmers. Our proposed amendment would provide agricultural co-operatives with the funding, support and protection they need to thrive.


Over the past few weeks in Parliament we have been debating the Agriculture Bill, with us on the Opposition frontbench setting out our ideas for changes to make the legislation work better for farmers. Yesterday, I tabled an amendment which would require the Government to promote agricultural co-operatives. It would open up funding, practical support and advice and guidance, as well as inhibit the passage of laws in future which disadvantage co-operation in farming.

It should be no surprise that by turnover agriculture is the second largest sector in our co-operative movement. In farming, co-operation is simply common sense.

By working together producers can manage risk, share best practice, and find new markets – or simply to come together to have a louder voice in their existing markets. Some co-operative models, like the one adopted by Arla Foods, allow farmers collectively to own processing and food manufacturing, cutting out the middle man to give consumers a fairer deal while making sure farmers secure a fair share as profits are returned.

I’m proud to be an MP for the Co-operative Party as well as for Labour. The Co-operative Party was instrumental last year in persuading Labour to include in its manifesto a promise to double the size of the co-operative sector. Brexit brings many uncertainties and risks for British farmers and developing a stronger co-operative sector to protect agriculture from these challenges is an important task.

I hope this amendment is taken seriously by the Government. It will help the 140,000 farmers who are members and co-owners of more than 400 agricultural co-operatives to do business better and more fairly, and enable more farmers to come together to share the benefits of co-operation.