Irish co-ops need to consolidate to compete with commercial rivals in the marketplace, said ICOS president, Bertie O’Leary.
Mr O’Leary, who is also Dairygold chairman, told those attending the 39th ICOS National Conference, in Portlaoise, that Irish co-op members are doing themselves no favours by standing alone. Instead, he urged them to unite to enhance their ability to compete internationally.
“It is regrettable that the pace of consolidation in our dairy co-operatives has not been faster,” said Mr O’Leary. “I urge the current generation of chairmen and directors to focus more urgently on the question of rationalisation and consolidation.
“Facing into an ever-increasing, global competitive marketplace, with five international marketing platforms, ten processing co-ops and a further 13 milk-purchasing co-operatives is not serving farmers’ best interests. A key part of achieving more rapid change must be found.”
The ICOS conference examined the challenges facing producers in the global food-supply chain and the role of co-ops in strengthening the hand of their farmer members for the future. The context of the conference is increasingly competitive, globalised trading, including the abolition of EU milk quotas in April, 2015.
Agri-food exports yield €10bn for the Irish economy each year — 12% of all goods exports and 9% of total employment.
Dairy goods comprise €3bn of this, beef €2.1bn, and prepared foods €1.6bn — collectively accounting for two thirds of all exports. Ireland also exports €240m in live animals each year.
The Plunkett Institute for Co-operative Governance was also unveiled at the conference. Together with ICOS, this will act as an expert body supporting the governance of Irish co-operative organisations and continuous professional development.
The institute is named after Sir Horace Plunkett (1854–1932), founder of the Irish Co-operative movement.
Mr O’Leary said: “Plunkett’s rationale of ‘better farming, better business, better living’ remains the driving influence for the Irish co-operative sector, where modern-day producers must organise strongly to look after their own future interests in the marketplace.
“For the current generation of Irish farmers, the challenge of global competition, and the challenge of extracting a fair margin from the marketplace, is becoming ever more complex.
“They must continue to co-operate in a manner that enables them to compete with large, investor-owned firms. To do so, they must have the necessary leadership and management skills, and this is where The Plunkett Institute will play an important and strategic role,” he said.
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