GREAT Southern farmers have responded positively to the prospect of a ‘corporate style’ grains and sheep co-operative being established to develop projects in the region.
Value-adding opportunities flowing from creation of a Great Southern farmers’ co-operative, including regional prime lamb feedlot and feed mill projects being investigated with State and Federal funds, were discussed with 46 farmers at meetings last week.
Low-key meetings at Jerramungup, South Stirlings, Cranbrook and Mt Barker were organised by the Stirlings to Coast Farmers (SCF) group to seek farmers’ views on how a co-operative could benefit them.
The meetings backed up results of a survey of about 50 farmers by the SCF.
SCF chief executive officer Dr Christine Kershaw said the response to the prospect of a value-adding local co-operative had been “very positive, with no negative feedback so far”.
But Dr Kershaw acknowledged only people interested in the concept of a regional farmers’ co-operative would have attended the meetings.
She said the meetings to gauge interest were deliberately kept low key because the co-operative had “not finished crunching the numbers” on its prospective lamb feedlot and feed mill projects.
As previously reported in Farm Weekly, SCF was awarded $495,000 in August from Royalties for Regions Grower Group Grants by the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development for an 18-month investigation into the feasibility of establishing a farmer-owned feed mill.
A further $140,000 was awarded from the Federal government’s Farm Co-operatives and Collaboration Pilot Program for a six-month investigation into feasibility of establishing a farmer-owned prime lamb feedlot.
Because of the tighter funding timeline, SCF was concentrating on the feasibility study for a lamb feedlot first and hoped to have that report completed before Christmas, Dr Kershaw said.
A workshop with existing feedlot operators would be held on Wednesday, November 8 to test the operating costs and other “assumptions” in the feasibility study.
“In a month we will know whether it (prime lamb feedlot) is feasible and we will have something to go to farmers with,” Dr Kershaw said.
There was potential for the proposal to offer local producers better value by extending the lambing season and helping remove some pricing volatility, she said.
Dr Kershaw said a similar workshop to review a feasibility study for the feed mill proposal would probably be scheduled early next year.
The SCF proposal was that a prospectus for a Great Southern farmers’ co-operative could be issued between July and September next year, she said.
Shares would be available to all Great Southern farmers and membership would not be restricted to SCF or other grower groups, Dr Kershaw said.
The SCF group is collaborating with neighbouring grower groups, the Cranbrook Shire-based Gillamii Centre and the Fitzgerald Biosphere Group based at Jerramungup, on the co-operative proposal.
Ultimately, the co-operative would be a separate entity created to manage value adding projects like the proposed lamb feedlot and feed mill, and the SCF would revert to being one of its research service providers, Dr Kershaw said.
While farmers were being consulted on the type of co-operative, the SCF has also been working with the Australian Export Grains Innovation Centre and The University of WA, among others, to design a new generation co-operative enterprise.
“It will be as close to a corporate entity as we can achieve while still remaining a co-operative,” Dr Kershaw said.
She said discussions had also begun with Meat & Livestock Australia about regional branding and traceability for products produced and marketed through a regional co-operative.
The SCF, formed after a farmers’ meeting at Kamballup Hall in 2008 and now with more than 200 members and representing 80 farming businesses in the Great Southern, formally launched its co-operative proposal in August at its inaugural Kendenup Livestock ‘17 Research and Technology Updates event.