Working together to capture profit
Farmers don’t always have a reputation for working together. Fiercely independent, farmers can see neighbours as competitors. But Dairy Farmers of Britain (DFB) is an example of some 2,600 dairy farmers across Britain working together. Formed in 2002 with the amalgamation of Zenith Milk and the Milk Group it is an example of farmers cooperating in a difficult market to try and achieve a better margin for their produce.
It is the farmers who approve all the major decisions. Each and every farmer has a vote in deciding who sits on the Member Council. This Member Council then elects the company’s Board of Directors.
Part of the way that a better margin is achieved, is by the cooperative processing of members’ milk and so
DFB owns and runs a number of dairy processing units. From these come high quality cheeses, ice cream and, of course, milk. Because DFB, compared to the big producers, is a fairly small operation it was well placed to supply ‘localchoice’ milk to one particular supermarket when it wanted to give consumers the option of buying a more local product.
As well as providing a valuable income to its 2,600 farming members, DFB employs some 2,750 people at its 10 processing plants and 60 distribution centres.
Farmers can work together and DFB is an example of what can be achieved when this happens.
Partnership: working? Exploring the flip-side of partnership
Once ‘A Partnership’ would describe a group of professional people (accountants, vets, lawyers etc.) working together in one firm. It would be used of a company or other legal body. Now ‘partnership’ and ‘partnership working’ pervades all areas of life. Foreign policy depends on support of and not upsetting our ‘partner’ countries. From national Government through voluntary groups into boardrooms and even bedrooms (whether civilly recognised or not), the buzzword is ‘partnership’.
Ironically, in an age where time and again we are told there are no ‘one size fits all solutions’, the
‘one size’ that is demanded by potential funders, local government, statutory bodies, grant making trusts and many others, is that there is partnership working!
But does “Partnership” work? • Energy and time taken in forming a partnership is energy and time not spent on delivering a project.
• Almost endless communication is needed within a partnership to make sure every one knows what is happening. This distracts from actually doing the work. In the words of Elvis Presley, is there a need for “a little less conversation, a little more action”?
• Consulting with all the partners, all with a different schedule of meeting dates means that decision-making is inevitably slow. At best work is delayed. At worst opportunities get missed.
• Different partners have different priorities and so a partnership project can never deliver what any one of them really wants. Partnership working inevitability means compromise and that may not be a good thing.
‘Partnership’ is not a panacea. It can be part of the problem rather than part of the solution.
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