Co-op bid to raise lamb bar
High-quality lamb raised on Great Southern farms could be locally processed, boxed and sent to Asia in the pilot phase of a new project.
WA Producers Co-operative is pegged to begin operating in July, initially as a supply and logistics company which connecting members’ lamb to processors and customers in high-value markets.
The co-operative’s founding members, mostly Great Southern farmers, launched the organisation in Kendenup in February and plan to appoint a board at a meeting on in Albany on May 2.
WA Producers Co-operative chairman Ken Drummond, of Woogenellup, said the group would initially focus on lamb before expanding into beef and grain.
“We currently get paid on quantity, not quality,” he said.
“We want to produce a product of higher value ... to come together and value add.”
Mr Drummond said the purpose of the co-operative was to pool capital, livestock and feed resources to create value for members.
“Our success will depend on how much support we get from farmers,” he said.
“It is easy to say ‘we don’t get a fair deal’, and as an individual it can feel impossible. But this co-operative gives us a new vehicle.”
The first stage of the project involves distributing members’ lambs to value-adding locations, either feedlots of farms, before supplying processors or customers.
The co-operative is developing a farm nutrition program to standardise the lamb meat, and plans to use locally sourced, out-of-specification grain supplied by members.
Founders have set their sight on six main income activities; supply aggregation, branding, contract farming, supplementary feeding, and market development.
They have also set a goal of being a “fully operational enterprise” within three to five years.
The co-operative launch was more than two years in the making, after local grower group Stirlings to Coast Farmers received $600,000 in State and Federal Funding.
The cash was used to fund an executive steering committee, conduct a feasibility study and scope out new markets, particularly in ASia, with the help of ATQ consulting business adviser Daniel Marshall and AAM consulting market development specialist Nick Hunt.
Stirlings to Coast Farmers chief executive Christine Kershaw said the co-operative’s main advantages would be quality and scale.
It would not be operated by Stirlings to Coast, but would work with growers as a separate entity.
“This $1 million investment will see us start as a service company, including distribution, logistics and facilitation,” she said.
“We are looking at the farm side, and the marketing side, and the cooperative sits in the middle.”
Ms Kershaw said members would need to meet a set of lamb specifications, achieved through the new nutrition program.
“The holy grail for us is to focus on quality, not weight,” she said.
Under the current arrangement, co-operative members would be owner-shareholders and member-patrons. The co-operative would make money through a fee charged on sales and marketing.
WA Agriculture Minister Alannah MacTiernan said the co-operative was a great value-adding opportunity, giving farmers “real negotiating power” with processors and purchasers.
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