Australia’s coastal electric cooperative farmers elevator is on the brink of an unprecedented boom.
As the biggest cooperative in the world, Cooper’s Market is poised to become Australia’s biggest farming cooperative by 2020.
Coopers Market is the world’s largest producer of cooperative farming products, with a turnover of more than $1.3 billion a year.
The cooperative has been around since 1996, when it began distributing cooperative electricity to members in the Northern Territory.
The Cooperative Union of Australia (CUAA) was formed in 2014 to oversee the operation of the cooperative and help farmers make decisions about which products to produce.
Its goal is to make co-operative farming profitable, and cooperatives offer a viable alternative to traditional farming, which relies on large-scale land-based agriculture.
Cooper’s Market’s co-op leaders are confident they can achieve this.
“There’s a real potential for cooperative farming to be a viable option for Australian farmers, and I think it will become a reality in the next few years,” says Paul Jones, CEO of Cooper’s Markets.
“I think it’s just a matter of time, really.”
Cooper Farms has already started growing and harvesting a variety of products, including apples, carrots, onions and beans.
“It’s all about finding the right balance,” Mr Jones says.
“You can grow the best crop you can with the best technology, but it’s also about trying to produce something that people can actually eat.”
The cooperative farmers are currently negotiating with producers to make certain that the products they’re selling are organic, as well as to ensure the fruits and vegetables they’re offering are locally sourced.
“We’re in a very good position in terms of the market, and we’re confident we can deliver on that,” says Mr Jones.
While Cooper’s markets are still in the early stages, it has already achieved great success.
In 2015, the cooperative sold more than 3,000 tonnes of products.
“What we’re really focused on is the farmers, the farmers getting the best product for their money, and the farmers not going hungry,” Mr Davis says.
Coordinating the market in co-operatives has been a major challenge.
“The cooperative model is very different from a typical food cooperative, which is to manage the whole operation and run a retail business, so it’s very different to a supermarket, which can just focus on selling products,” Mr Davies says.
While the cooperative market has a limited capacity, it is set to grow as farmers and cooperators begin to realise the benefits of a small-scale farming business model.
“People are really interested in what we’re doing and are interested in the farmers and are not necessarily looking for a market,” Mr Owens says.
“Cooperative farming is a lot more about relationships, relationships of trust and relationships of co-operation.”
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