Emma Robinson is keen to champion producer cooperatives, believing they are family farming’s key to long-term prosperity.

Story + Photos Paula Heelan 

Three years ago, in the thick of drought and with extremely low cattle prices, Emma Robinson successfully applied for a Winston Churchill Trust Fellowship to investigate beef supply-chain innovation, with an emphasis on achieving better returns for beef producers. “I set off on a three-month study tour to the UK, Canada and the USA to look at producer-driven innovation in the supply chain, producer cooperatives and where producers were driving their innovation,” Emma says. In the UK and the USA, Emma found the cooperative model relatively common. “In the US, most farmers are members of two or more co-ops,” she says. “They are buying and selling their products cooperatively as a mainstream way of doing business. Cooperatives have helped build services rural communities would otherwise be without – like childcare, health services and even electricity. I came home with a heap of energy to take it a bit further. I pitched to a few industry groups, but got the sense that if it was meant to be, it was up to me.” 

Last year Emma won the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation (RIRDC) Rural Women’s Award for Queensland, providing her with another opportunity to work on a beef cooperative project. “I set up the Beef Co-op Project to build momentum around the idea of producers collaborating to achieve greater scale, efficiency and leverage in the beef supply chain,” she says. “It is going to be a learning process and we don’t want to predetermine what the outcomes might be – but basically we are looking to find the opportunities that allow more value in farmers collaborating, rather than working independently of each other ... We have mapped a 12-month program with key milestones and deliverables to June 2018, but new approaches can’t be limited by time frames and outcomes can’t be predetermined.”

This story excerpt is from Issue #114

Outback Magazine: August/September 2017