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Ashburton Crowned ‘Cooperative Capital of NZ’

Ashburton Crowned ‘Cooperative Capital of NZ’

Boasting more than 40 cooperatively owned businesses, Ashburton on State Highway One and the Mid-Canterbury rural hinterland has been crowned the “Cooperative Capital of New Zealand”.

The NZ Cooperatives Association has awarded Ashburton the Cooperative Capital title as part of the United Nations 2012 International Year of Cooperatives, which is being recognised by cooperatives around the world.

Cooperative Association chairperson Blue Read says Ashburton’s cooperatives provide for virtually every farming, business and household requirement a community could ever want or need.

“Just as Paeroa has its large bottle of L&P, Ohakune has its carrot and Rakaia its large scale salmon, we are offering Ashburton the right to erect the International Year of Cooperatives emblem on its outskirts as a welcome to the region,” Mr Read said.

Local farmer Jack Allan is a Fonterra milk supplier and a former chairman of the Ashburton Trading Society, now branded ATS. He likes the idea of Mid-Canterbury and Ashburton being branded the cooperative capital.

“Just look at what cooperatives have done for the region and even nationally.” Mr Allan said. “Cooperatively-owned buying groups like ATS have been the catalyst for competitive prices in the rural supplies sector for the entire Canterbury Province and even further afield.” 

“When ATS started we didn’t advertise for members. Farmers saw the benefits and just joined. Most farmers would have recouped their membership fee with their first fertiliser order,” he said. “For farming to be successful we rely on keeping our costs in check and maximising the sale of what we produce.” 

Cooperatives are more prolific in rural areas, which is put down to the community knowing their neighbours and a greater readiness in the country to help each other out.

“At $210 million, ATS turnover through its fertiliser, fuel, electricity, rural supplies and the ATS card is truly impressive and it arguably has one of the highest single-store revenue/turnovers of any rural supplies stores in the country,” Mr Allan said.

“When Ashburton Electricity was separated and established as a lines company, people readily accepted it as a cooperative, because they have high regard for the transparency and ethics of cooperative businesses.”

Mr Allan said irrigation schemes were another good example of people working together for a business objective and where every member is dependent on the performance of the cooperative.

Ashburton District Council Mayor Angus McKay said he was delighted with the “Cooperative Capital” title, and is a member of several local cooperative businesses. He is particularly proud of Ashburton Electricity which returns $3 to $5 million (depending on profitability) to the community each year. This includes between $100 and $140 in free line charges for low income families.

“It’s Ashburton to a T and has my total support,” Mr McKay said. “I’d be happy to promote the idea with the council, the community the local cooperative businesses to see how we can best use the “Cooperative Capital” branding.

Cooperatives servicing Ashburton and Mid Canterbury include:

Acton Farmers Irrigation Cooperative

Alliance Group

Ashburton First National

Ashburton Lyndhurst Irrigation

ATS (Ashburton Trading Society)

Ballance Agri-Nutrients

Barrhill Chertsey Irrigation

Cochrane’s of Canterbury (Origin Agroup)


Coural (Rural Couriers Society)

East Side Gallery Cooperative Society

Electricity Ashburton

FMG (Farmers Mutual Group)

Fonterra Cooperative Group

GJ Blacklow (Tradezone Industrial Group)

Hec’s Four Square (Foodstuffs South Island)

Health 2000

Kitchen Kapers (Composite Retail Society)

Lyndhurst Water Scheme Cooperative

Mayfield Hinds Irrigation

Mitre 10

Netherby Four Square (Foodstuffs South Island)

Netherby Pharmacy (CDC Pharmaceuticals)

New World Ashburton (Foodstuffs South Island)

NZCU Baywide (ex-Manchester Unity Credit Union)

NZCU South

Paper Plus



Redmonds Furnishing &Flooring (Composite Retail Society)

RD1 (Fonterra Cooperative Group)

Searles Allentown Pharmacy (CDC Pharmaceuticals)

Silver Fern Farms

Smith & Church Appliances (Appliance Connexion)

Stepping Out (Composite Retail Society)

Stewart & Holland (Appliance Connexion)

The China Shop (Composite Retail Society)

Todds Fashions (Composite Retail Society)

UFS Ashburton (CDC Pharmaceuticals)

Valetta Irrigation

Wises Pharmacy (CDC Pharmaceuticals)


Cooperative and mutual businesses play a significant role in the New Zealand economy with $39.4 billion of combined revenues in 2010/11 from the Top 40 NZ cooperatives and mutuals.

Fonterra, with 10,500 farmer-members, has annual revenue of $19.8 billion and is New Zealand’s only truly global business. The three Foodstuffs cooperatives (Auckland, Wellington and South Island) have a combined turnover of $8 billion, making them together the third largest business in the country.

In terms of the Top 40 Cooperatives Dunedin-based meat processing cooperative Silver Fern Farms is fifth with $2 billion and provides 7,500 jobs, while further south the Invercargill based meat cooperative, Alliance Group, is sixth largest with revenues of $1.5 billion and providing 5,600 jobs.

These six New Zealand co-ops are in the Global 300 list of the world’s largest cooperatives.

Big rural lender, Netherlands-based Rabobank, is a cooperative and the world’s largest rural bank and a major agricultural sector lender in New Zealand. With over NZ$1 billion in assets, Rabobank’s AA credit rating is up there with both the governments of New Zealand and Australia.

Collectively, NZ cooperatives and mutuals provide more than 43,000 New Zealanders with jobs. But not all are based in the rural heartland.

With vehicle repair shops as its members, Capricorn Society has members in New Zealand, Australia and South Africa – truly a tri-nations cooperative – with a turnover of more than $1 billion.

Started in 1928 and now with 137,000 members, The Co-operative Bank has the largest number of members of all New Zealand cooperatives. Collectively cooperatives contribute 3 percent of New Zealand’s GDP.

On a global footing, cooperatives worldwide are owned by 1 billion people and employ over 100 million. The biggest 300 cooperatives have a combined turnover of $NZ1.9 trillion and are as large as Spain, the world’s 9th largest economy.


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