IAN Bell has stood down after 23 years as chairman of Aspatria Farmers, serving more than 34 years on the board of the farmer-owned co-operative.

He is succeeded in the role by William Graham at a time when turnover and membership is at an all-time high.

Ian’s family has an association with Aspatria Farmers that goes back about 100 years, with Ian succeeding his father John as a director in 1985.

Until he recently took semi-retirement, he was farming at Aigle Gill, Aspatria. His son John now runs the 250-cow commercial Ayrshire herd there.

The handover brings continuity for Aspatria Farmers as William Graham, who farms at Fell View, Bothel, also joined the board in 1985 as one of the co-op’s youngest directors in his 20s.

David Wright, of Tarnrigg Moor, Oulton, Wigton has been elected vice-chairman.

Aspatria Farmers, which celebrates 150 years in business next year, reported a turnover of £24.4m in 2017/18, an increase of 14 per cent over 2016/17.

Turnover and volume growth was across all product categories but in particular on feed and engineering where the business has made significant investment.

As a result, pre-tax profits were up for the second year running at £135,000. Membership is also at its highest at 985, with the anticipation that it will hit 1,000 for next year’s milestone celebration.

Ian has witnessed many changes within the industry and the business since he was elected to the board in December 1985.

“The business – then The Aspatria Agricultural Co-operative Society – had been swamped by the much more aggressive neighbouring co-op businesses.

“Our turnover that year was in the region of £500,000 and the society showed a small trading loss. It really was ‘mend it’ or ‘end it’ time.”

However, the directors decided to recruit a new general manager, John Hunter.

With his guidance and the help of a strong team of committed staff, the co-op soon recovered.

During the 1990s, the directors resisted joining a joint venture agricultural supply company when the larger co-ops joined forces.

Then, in 2001, the foot and mouth epidemic impacted seriously on the business with turnover falling from £9m to £3m.

Despite this setback, John and his successors have since overseen continuous organic growth.

The business has also broadened its offering with the take-over of the Joseph Hillary business in Aspatria in 2006 and MTS Dairy Services at Longtown in 2015.