Farming cooperative Fram Farmers celebrates 60 years
Barry Howard, Commercial Manager at Fram Farmers, reflects on the reasons why the collaborative philosophy is as relevant today as it has ever been for the national farming cooperative based in Framlingham in Suffolk.
In 1960, a group of 23 farming founders had the foresight to recognise the benefits which farmers could achieve by pooling their purchasing power. Six decades later, the concept is even more relevant with numbers joining the co-op continuing to grow year on year.
In fact, Fram Farmers now operates as one of UK’s leading farmer-owned inputs, purchasing and crop marketing cooperatives working on behalf of almost 1400 farming businesses across the UK with an annual turnover in excess of £200M. To put that into context, a colleague of mine has coined the phrase ‘a million-acre farm’ and that is effectively what Fram Farmers represents. This ‘farm’ produces over 1.5 million tonnes of cereals, runs 2500 tractors, 500 combines, buys 42 million litres of fuel per year and spends £30 million on crop protection products. It feeds 110,000 dairy and beef cattle, 1 million chickens, 225,000 sows and 75,000 sheep. And that is just a start. The range of products and services now available to members is too many to mention, but hopefully this gives you a feel for the numbers. This growth has, in part, been down to the recognition and willingness of our members to collaborate.
Recent years has seen increased market volatility, and managing that is our strength. We have in-house industry professionals, who have knowledge and experience to help adapt to changing markets, allowing our members to benefit from a whole range of services. We continue to see significant consolidation in sectors that supply farmers with goods and services, and the purchase of their crops. Our strong membership base gives us strength in numbers to counterbalance the contraction within the agricultural supply industry.
In addition to managing price volatility, securing supplies of key products at the right time is also an essential role for the cooperative. This has been particularly important over the last few weeks as we negotiate our way through supply chain disruptions caused by current Covid-19 restrictions. Throughout our history we have constantly adapted to meet the needs of the membership through building strong working relationships with our customers and suppliers.
In addition to the increased volume that we can offer through collective buying and selling, we continue to identify areas where we can work with both suppliers and customers to take cost out of the supply chain through innovative solutions.
For me, this is key to securing better prices for farmers in the long term. Just buying bigger volumes won’t be enough. There must be wins for both parties in any successful transaction. Fram Farmers continues to benefit our partner suppliers by reducing their accounts receivable costs, assisting in inventory management through forward planning and providing a platform for communication of new products and services.
We are trialling new technological logistical solutions which will save time and money by coordinating deliveries, allowing for more efficient routing of vehicles. As a group, we are far better placed to deliver these supply chain efficiencies and can also ensure that our farmer members capture some of the benefit.
As a cooperative, Fram Farmers has a responsibility to our members to ensure we are best positioned to benefit them. We have a history of investing in our people and finding innovative ways in which to support our members in building a sustainable farm business.
This is what will lead to our success for the decades ahead; continuing to invest and expand into new services. In 2020 alone we have launched a competitive new finance scheme to help members better manage capital requirements and cash flow demands. We continue to invest in people to bring new skills, an example being the recent appointment of Dan Cox in the new business services division. Dan’s role will bring additional services to members, including energy management and renewables, environmental land management scheme consultancy and business planning projects.
As we move forward in a changing working environment, no doubt with new challenges, but also new opportunities, I look forward to working alongside our members, as well as our suppliers, to ensure we all build strong businesses that are ready to face a new generation.