Wednesday, December 6, 2023

Ruralco celebrates 60 years of serving farmers

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Longtime members gather to cheer rural co-op that started life as Ashburton Trading Society.
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Sixty years of supporting farmers for a brighter farming future was celebrated in Mid Canterbury with the diamond anniversary of the Ashburton Trading Society, now trading as Ruralco. 

A group of early shareholder account holders, joined by Ruralco staff, joined for the cutting of a 60th birthday cake on August 21, 60 years to the day since the formation of the impactful rural co-operative.      

It all began for the ATS rural co-operative in 1963 when a group of innovative and ambitious farmers seeking a way to support agriculture and make farming life easier got together.

Together, around the dining table of inaugural chair and Mid Canterbury Federated Farmers president at the time Jack Brand, they sought a way to achieve lower input costs in agriculture to make farming more sustainable.

On August 21, 1963, the ATS supplier network was formed.

When ATS first began operating, agriculture was in a different era. Manual labour was more common than machine labour and New Zealand’s most dominant agricultural sectors were sheep, beef and arable farming. 

The government offered several production subsidies and export incentives that helped to support agriculture as an economic sector.

The Trading Society promptly sought to secure alliances with farm product suppliers that would help them achieve their goal of offering lower product prices for their members. 

Several local farm suppliers had already been flagged as potential allies for suppliers and it was also decided to contact the oil companies as the directors recognised the significant impact any kind of reduction in fuel costs could have for members. 

The co-operative has grown beyond its original catchment, now having a nationwide reach through its online presence and card network. It boasts more than 3000 card merchants across NZ with more than 4000 shareholder accounts accounting for 20,000 cardholders using Ruralco to access competitive prices on a wide range of products.

Early shareholder account holders, staff and past board members gathered to celebrate the founding of Ashburton Trading Society on August 21, 1963. 

The journey over six decades has presented its challenges; farmers and rural communities have faced many trials and tribulations, from droughts to floods, earthquakes and pandemics, snowstorms, subsidy losses and devastating financial crises.

In his address at the 60th birthday celebration, Ruralco chair Sir David Carter alluded to this.

“It’s been an impactful journey over 60 years, there’s been ups and downs and swings and roundabouts.

“It’s tough in farming at the moment and it’s been tough in farming in the past, but farmers are resilient, they adapt and they adjust their cheque books.

“As a Ruralco co-operative we have to adjust our business as well and it’s the loyalty of our shareholder base that makes Ruralco the success it is today and will do into the next 60 years for a brighter farming future,” Carter said.

“With the deep roots of our co-operative we give rural businesses the opportunity to source better deals and know that their contributions deliver real value for their local communities, helping to support a sustainable future for NZ farming.” 

“We will continue to support our farmers. That was the original intent of our founding shareholders and it has remained unchanged.”

Ruralco chief executive Rob Sharkie said the co-operative is still held dear by its loyal members.

“We have a long and proud history of supporting farmers and the agriculture sector.

“The journey has been huge for the farming and the wider community since those profound thinkers and like-minded farmers set the business alight.

“Ruralco is proud of its heritage, the people, the events and the milestones that have helped shape the co-operative and make it what it is now,” Sharkie said.

“We will continue to grow while upholding the vision of the co-operative’s founding fathers to provide competitive pricing for their businesses and a sustainable future for tomorrow. 

“While the scale, governance, management and operations of the society have evolved well beyond any vision of the founding directors, the heart of the early co-operative keeps beating.”

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