Course for co-operative farming born from $2.5 million Government grant

In a nutshell, a $2.5 million Australian Government funded grant has been used to develop a Co-operative Farming program with the aim to expand the agricultural market, apparently through a learning course that starts on 17 August 2021.

The Co-operative Financials and Governance for Accountants and Lawyers Program, the first course of its kind, has been developed by the Business Council of Co-operatives and Mutuals (BCCM) as a learning partner of Chartered Accountants Australia & New Zealand (CA ANZ).

The BCCM – Australia’s peak body for the co-operative and mutual sector – has created the course through its $2.5 million Australian Government funded Co-operative Farming program, in response to a huge amount of industry demand.

In agriculture alone, 229 co-operatives facilitate the operations of more than 24,000 member businesses in farming, fishing, forestry and irrigation. These include smaller marketing and packaging operations with high value produce such as truffles, right through to the country’s largest grain export and handling co-operative – CBH Group.

Minister for Agriculture and Northern Australia, the Hon David Littleproud MP, said the course was something rural and regional Australia sorely needed.

“It is vitally important to educate accountants and lawyers servicing our farmers about business models that could deliver improved economic outcomes and, more broadly, improve the sustainability of their communities,” Minister Littleproud said.

“This course is the first of its kind and is filling an essential gap in professional services in the bush.

“Australia’s lawyers and accountants are currently graduating without spending any time on this type of business model.

“That means our farmers are missing out on the opportunity to consider if a co-operative could be the right option for them because their local accountant simply doesn’t know about them.”

Melina Morrison, chief executive of the BCCM, said the COVID pandemic had focused attention on supply chain resilience and the importance of food security.

“Co-operatives are 100% Aussie owned and operated businesses that ensure the profits and the ownership stays local,” she said.

“It’s good to have these businesses around in a crisis.”

Morrison said there was untapped potential in the co-operative business sector, but an identified lack of professional accounting and legal knowledge.

The course has been created in response to the 2016 Senate report into co-operative, mutual and member-owned firms, which recommended accountants and legal practitioners should have a “demonstrated knowledge of the co-operative and mutual structure”.

The course – held over a series of three sessions kicking off on August 17 – is being facilitated by Henry Botha, principal of Higgins Botha, and will be presented by Kevin Franey and Mark Ellem, both partners at TNR Chartered Accountants, and Katie Innes of BAL Lawyers.

“Our practice has been working with large and small co-operatives for the past 100 years, with clients in the agriculture and processing sectors,” Mr Franey said.

“The opportunity to share our expertise with accountants and lawyers around Australia is genuinely exciting and this course is designed to truly benefit professionals like us, or those who want to up-skill in this area.”

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