To stay viable, Australian farmers must be smart, innovative business managers. Part of this is ensuring that they reduce their vulnerability “to supply-chain imbalances, market price pressures and conditions set by major retailers”.
Collaborative business arrangements – collaborative farming, cooperative marketing, collective negotiations, and buying or selling cooperatives – is a way to redress those disadvantages and reduce the potential risks.
Farming Together, a two-year pilot program in collaborative agriculture initiated and funded by the Australian Government, supports primary producers across Australia in learning about and forming cooperative business structures and collective strategies.
The Program’s objectives are to:
- improve knowledge of how co-operatives, collective bargaining and supply chain negotiations can improve farmers’ returns;
- improve knowledge of options available to farmers and farm advisors regarding such innovative business models, including various forms of collaboration; and
- improve the agriculture-focused legal and financial expert advice available regarding the process, implementation and management of such business models.
In a nutshell, the aim is to help farmers “value-add, build marketplace strength and boost returns…lifting on-farm profitability by boosting collaborative groups, cooperatives and collective bargaining”.
Sound a bit like a newspeak revival of the old ‘agrarian socialism’? It kind of is – and, arguably, not a minute too late, if we’re to save Australia’s struggling family farms from being swallowed whole by corporate ag and cashed-up overseas investors.The Australian Government has invested $14,934,000 (including GST) into Farming Together, aka the Farm Co-operatives and Collaboration Pilot Programme, part of the government’s Agricultural Competitiveness White Paper.
The program, which launched on 29 August 2016 and will end on 30 June 2018, is managed by Southern Cross University and is based at SCU’s Lismore campus in northern NSW.
It aims to support 2,000 farmers in its pilot phase and is open to Australian primary producers or producer groups interested in “developing collaborative projects to improve farmgate returns”.
Many of the program’s existing and former participants have formed or updated cooperative farming ventures and are now forging ahead, buoyed by big-data sharing, pooled expertise and, we hope, mutually beneficial collaborations that will result in increased returns.
The most recent intake of Farming Together participants took place in February 2017. The final intake for the program is in June 2017, with all projects to be completed by 30 April 2018.
What can I expect from the program?
Farming Together provides participants with tailored information and expertise as well as opportunities for networking and knowledge exchange. It links them with expert consultants who help them develop cooperative business structures that will increase their collective productivity and clout in the marketplace, thereby promoting the future viability of member farms.
Your collaborative-ag vision will get “personalised feedback and guidance from a business expert” and, if deemed promising, will be considered for Farming Together funding to enable you to realise it. The funds can be used to market your products, hire consultants and/or conduct R&D.
For further information about the program, click here.
Eligibility, applications and further information
The Farming Together program is open to Australian farmers or farmer groups operating under criteria set by the Australian Tax Office.
Interested in joining the program? Apply online at the Farming Together site with a detailed account of how you propose to kick-start your concept and the organisers say they’ll “get back to you by the close of the week”.