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Posted: March 2, 2020

Funding boosts support for farm co-ops

Enhanced guides on starting and financing farm co-operatives in B.C. will help farmers build their businesses through providing information on how to pool resources and market their products collectively.

The recently updated Agricultural Co-operatives Start-Up Guide outlines an easy five-step process to help farmers create a new local co-op, while the Financing Agricultural Co-operatives Guide provides funding options for co-op farms. Supports specific to agricultural co-operatives are unique, and the updated guides will help farmers throughout B.C. work together to build their businesses and develop new markets, noted a joint Feb. 29 B.C. Ministry of Agriculture and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada news release.

“There are many leading examples of co-ops in British Columbia, and across Canada, but it can be hard for a group of producers to know how to go about creating one,” said Marie-Claude Bibeau, federal Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food. “Our government is pleased to be teaming up with the province to provide this guidance to producers, because the rewards of forming a co-op can be great. Co-ops continue to make important contributions to the sustainable development of our rural areas. They offer producers the advantages of large-scale business, while benefiting many individual producers.”

Co-operative business models help groups of farmers by increasing their bargaining power, creating new market opportunities, lowering costs, decreasing business risks and taking advantage of economies of scale. Co-ops are often managed by members, and each member maintains their autonomy and independence, allowing farmers to support each other while also working toward a common business goal.

Farmers operating small- or medium-sized farms benefit from a strengthened presence in the marketplace by working with other growers facing similar challenges and pursuing opportunities together.

The co-op model helps producers of different sizes and in different locations enhance and grow economies in smaller B.C. communities.

Originally produced in 1997, the updated guides include:

* case studies to illustrate the types, benefits and impacts of agricultural co-ops;

* guidelines for business operations;

* financing practices; and

* references to additional resources that will benefit farmers interested in starting their own co-operative business.

“We’re creating more opportunities for farmers to get into the field and bring additional farmland into production,” said Lana Popham, B.C.’s Minister of Agriculture. “With the updated guides, farmers can learn about the benefits of co-ops and how this model can help grow their businesses.”

The guides are funded in part by Grow BC, a mandate commitment of the Ministry of Agriculture that supports new and existing farmers to develop their careers, expand local production and access affordable land. Additional funding to support the guides was provided by the governments of Canada and British Columbia through the Canadian Agricultural Partnership, a federal-provincial-territorial program to strengthen the agriculture, agri-food and agri-based product sector.

“Co-ops have a long history of being part of B.C.’s agricultural sector. As a member services organization dedicated to supporting co-ops across the province, we’re pleased that resources such as the updated guides are available to support farmers interested in exploring co-operative solutions,” said Andrea Harris, executive director, B.C. Co-op Association.

In 2019, there were approximately 86 active agri-food co-ops in B.C.


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