The opportunities and challenges of farmer-owned businesses working together to benefit themselves, their peers and their communities will be explored as part of the new fellowship.
The direct economic returns of farm cooperatives, such as reduced costs through economies of scale, are easier to calculate while the wider social benefits are harder to capture. The fellowship will look to develop a standard and practical method for assessing the co-op business model, including both the direct and indirect benefits.
Funded by the Scottish Government, the fellowship will be jointly delivered by Sharon Flanigan, James Hutton Institute and Caroline Whitfield, SRUC in partnership with the Scottish Agricultural Organisation Society (SAOS).
This is a pivotal time for the agricultural sector due to the disruption and uncertainty caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. As Scotland moves out of lockdown, the focus has moved to how the agricultural sector, and the diversity of supply chains, can be most effectively supported and how this can be a catalyst for wider rural economic recovery. The fellowship will improve understanding of the contributions of cooperatives and may inform the wider recovery efforts by providing insights on how they support fragile rural communities.
A co-op is a business jointly owned and democratically controlled by the members who use its services and are willing to accept the responsibilities of membership. Apart from the commercial financial return from being a member, co-ops have potential to build resilience and strengthen rural businesses, such as through collective management of market volatility and risk.
Jim Booth, Head of Co-op Development at SAOS, commented “Part of the challenge to increasing the penetration of farm co-ops is to improve the understanding of the co-op business model, and the wide benefits and value that co-operation brings. The distinctive nature of the co-op business model with its multiple bottom lines, makes it complex and difficult to measure. That is why this new fellowship is so important, coming at a critical time as we recover from the covid-19 pandemic and leaving the EU.”
Professor Lorna Dawson, a SEFARI Advisor on Scottish Government‘s (RESAS) strategic research programme, and Knowledge Exchange Lead for Environment commented: “This fellowship aims to address the paucity of UK research into quantifying the contribution derived from co-operation in agriculture, with the study’s output planned to be widely shared amongst Scottish farmers, co-ops, the research community, the Scottish Government and also communicated with the UK agriculture sector”.
The award has appointed two fellows, Dr Sharon Flanigan, from the JHI in Aberdeen, and Caroline Whitfield from SRUC based at Ayr. Both are eagerly looking forward to commencing the study this summer. Sharon told us: “ This project will contribute to a wider research agenda to improve and promote the contribution, value and potential of co-operation and collaboration to the benefit of people and businesses in rural Scotland.”
Caroline added: “The fellowship is an exciting prospect to extend the base of knowledge on the effectiveness and future potential of co-operatives within Scotland’s rural economy.” Another key member in this partnership is Dr Steven Thomson, Senior Agricultural Economist at SRUC, who is the SEFARI Gateway knowledge exchange lead for Business and Communities in the Strategic Research Programme.
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Notes to the Editors
SEFARI is a consortium of six globally renowned research institutes. As SEFARI, these institutes deliver the Scottish Government-funded Strategic Research Programme (SRP), which addresses key mid to longer-term challenges for Scotland’s environment, agriculture, land use, food and rural communities.
SEFARI Fellowships are bespoke opportunities for staff from SEFARI to undertake new and priority research opportunities that are co-constructed with key partners.
SAOS is a ‘not for profit’ rural development organisation with specialist knowledge and skills in farmer co-operation and food industry collaboration. It is owned by its member businesses, which comprise of the agriculture, rural and food co-operatives in Scotland.
In response to the Covid-19 pandemic, all face-to-face research across the Scottish Government, its partners and contractors, including SEFARI and the National Parks, has stopped for the foreseeable future and any engagement will follow Scottish Government guidance.