ONE of the oldest farmer-owned co-operatives in the UK, Aspatria Farmers, has officially opened its brand-new premises for its dairy services business MTS in Longtown.

The co-op’s first honorary life president, Ian Bell, who was chairman for 23 years and has a long family association with the business, was joined by farmer customers and business suppliers when he officially opened the building on Longtown’s Borders Business Park.

Aspatria Farmers bought the one-acre site on the business park from neighbours, construction and civil engineering company R H Irving Construction, who also carried out the building work on the new 9,000 square foot development.

Aspatria Farmers has invested £650,000 in the new building, which includes a workshop, parts and spares store, general product storage area and a trade counter, together with office accommodation and meeting rooms.

The farmer-owned co-operative which will celebrate 150 years in business this year, bought MTS Dairy Services in 2015. Since then the MTS business has grown to provide dairy and electrical services on more than 350 of the co-op’s members’ farms on both sides of the Border as distributors for Dairymaster and Fullwood parlours and equipment – outgrowing its former premises on the business park.

Mr Bell said MTS was fulfilling an important role in the dairy sector in Cumbria and south west Scotland. “The business has grown to the extent that it now employs 11 dairy engineers – there were only five when Aspatria Farmers bought the company. It now employs a total of 18 people,” said Mr Bell, who attributed the building of the new premises to chief executive Tim Wilson, who joined the co-operative in 2015.

Aspatria Farmers secured a £180,000 Defra Rural Development Grant for the project. The store has been built to the latest standards regarding cladding and insulation and the building’s heating and hot water are on electrical systems powered by a solar array.

Mr Wilson said: “The new build has given us the opportunity to invest in an asset for the future, and with the main funding coming from our bank we are not asking members to help fund it or dip into our reserves.

“It is crucial for our dairy farming members that we invest in the best facilities to service our member base in the future.”