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Celebrating 2012 - United Nations Year of Cooperatives

Rural Cooperation in the 21st Century: Unique Opportunities for Farm Families

An international conference, Rural Cooperation in the 21st Century: Unique Opportunities for Farm Families will take place at the Brooklodge, Macreddin Village, Co. Wicklow on Friday, 31 August 2012. It will explore an alternative way for farmers to work together in bringing their products directly to consumers, to sell their produce at a higher price, and to hence improve their profitability.

Teagasc in collaboration with the TASTE Council, Bord Bia, UCC Centre for Cooperative Studies and ICOS is holding the conference which is one of several official events taking place in Ireland to mark 2012 - United Nations’ Year of Cooperatives. Ireland has a strong heritage of cooperative movements, but there are also new forms of cooperatives operating internationally that Ireland has much to learn from. This conference will discuss alternative ways for farmers to brand and sell their produce at a higher price.

Speaking in advance of the conference, Dr. Áine Macken-Walsh, Teagasc Rural Economy and Development programme said: “There are increasing opportunities for farmers to supply consumers’ growing demands for authentic farm family food that is branded with a ‘clean, green’ image. Such products receive a higher price than undifferentiated commodities in the marketplace. As acknowledged by Bord Bia’s new branding initiative Origin Green, Ireland has significant potential and international advantage in bringing well-branded, differentiated products to the marketplace because of its ‘clean, green’ image and its non-intensive family operated farms. A genuinely farmer-owned cooperative is a suitable business model for bringing such products to the marketplace because consumers want a direct link with the farmers who are producing the food they buy.”

Cooperatives operating in the US and elsewhere provide successful models for farmers to work together to target similar markets, nationally and internationally. Such cooperatives can successfully represent a multitude of differently branded products – differently branded lamb and beef products, for example, because such product groups, though distinctive to each other, are targeting the same markets and often have insufficient scale to operate alone. Cooperatives can seek not only to achieve scale and greater bargaining power in the market, but also to provide and coordinate services that are crucial to farmers who want to sell their products directly: marketing, branding, public relations, processing and distribution.

The conference will be inspired by contributions from three US speakers who are experts on the development and operation of this cooperative model. The aim will be to debate what Irish farmers could potentially benefit from this particular cooperative model and what would be required to make it work in the Irish context.

A panel of Irish food experts, marketing experts, industry experts and retailers will assist the debate and discussion. The conference is primarily targeted at farmers and a complimentary marketing workshop for farmers will take place on 30 August at the conference venue, the day before the conference itself.