Federal Member for Page Kevin Hogan today welcomed the $13.8 million announcement that the Northern Rivers will be the National Centre of Excellence for Agricultural Co-operatives.
“From Woodenbong cattle breeders and Harwood sugar growers to Woolgoolga blueberry farmers at Woolgoolga, and from the Casino Meatworks and Norco to the Fishermen’s co-ops in the Clarence River and Ballina, this is great news for all our agricultural producers” he said.
“The Northern Rivers has some of the oldest and most successful co-ops in the country, so it makes complete sense to locate the programme in our region.
“Improving the competitiveness of our farms helps farmers and creates new local jobs in agriculture.”
“As a strong advocate for collaborative models that support small and family businesses, I am confident this initiative will help more businesses succeed and grow the jobs and economies of regional areas like ours on the Northern Rivers.”
The Centre will deliver expert advice and information to up to 2000 farmers and 100 farmer groups across the nation.
It will be based at Southern Cross University and draw on the expertise of the Northern Rivers Cooperative Alliance which comprises Norco, Northern Cooperative Meat Company, NSW Sugar Milling Cooperative, Clarence River and Ballina Fishermen’s cooperatives, Summerland Credit Union and Regional Development Australia.
Head of the Northern Rivers Cooperative Alliance Greg McNamara said the pilot would encourage innovation in agriculture, nationally and locally.
“This is an unprecedented opportunity for grass-root farmers to lean about how to establish cooperatives and grow their businesses,” he said.
“From a local perspective, this is a once in a lifetime opportunity for our farmers.”
Melina Morrison CEO of the industry body the Business Council of Co-operatives and Mutuals said the sector supported the bottom-up model using local farmer experience and thanked Mr Hogan for working hard to deliver that.
“Cooperatives strengthen communities and this program is an important step in helping local farmers compete in global markets,” she said.
“The Northern Rivers is a co-operative stronghold and we look forward to working with Southern Cross University to support the program objectives using the national network of cooperatives.”
Ben Redden, chief executive of Regional Development Australia – Northern Rivers, congratulated Southern Cross University on the development of this framework which will provide a National platform for collaboration between Industry, academia and Government.
“RDA Northern Rivers recognises the key role that collaborative farming and innovative business models can play in enhancing the financial sustainability of the Australian agricultural sector. We also congratulate the Federal Government on the foresight its shown, through the Agricultural White Paper, to provide the funding necessary to further develop these concepts,” he said.
Over the coming months Southern Cross University will roll out dedicated education tools and resources, customised expert support and provide support to farmer groups interested in exploring cooperative business structures.
Southern Cross University Vice Chancellor Professor Peter Lee welcomed the announcement.
“We are delighted to be chosen to lead this important national program, which has the potential to transform regional Australia,” Professor Lee said.
“We have a strong track record in the two core elements of this program — agriculture and collaboration. Our research in the areas of agricultural and veterinary sciences, crop and pasture production and forestry sciences was rated at ‘well above world standard’ in the latest Excellence in Research for Australia national report.
“We have worked in partnership with industry, business and government stakeholders in the delivery of a wide range of projects from developing sustainable aquaculture operations to the development of new crop varieties.”
Professor Lee said the University’s expertise, combined with the University’s focus on collaboration, were key to the approach that will be taken in delivering the project.
“We will establish a national knowledge network of individuals and groups that are focused on supporting the collaborative approaches to agriculture and we will be working with farmers right across the country,” he said.