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Unique Opportunities for Farm Families

Over one hundred people assembled in Macreddin Village, Co. Wicklow today, Friday 31 August, at an event to celebrate 2012 – UN Year of Cooperatives. The event, hosted by Teagasc in collaboration with Bord Bia’s TASTE Council, ICOS and UCC’s Centre for Cooperative Studies and sponsored by Cold Move, focused on cooperative models that assist farmers to pursue opportunities in high value-added differentiated food markets.

Speaking at the conference, Teagasc sociologist Dr. Áine Macken-Walsh said that products can have varying degrees of differentiation, ranging from raw products with premium qualities used as ingredients in the production of functional foods to artisan, speciality and regional food products. However, in developing farmer-owned brands, she said that farmers can experience challenges in undertaking the range of processing, branding, marketing and other tasks that are required to realise maximum potential.

Prof. Thomas Gray of the USDA and the cooperative centre scholar at the University of Saskatchewan, put forward a potential solution to these challenges in the form of a federated cooperative model that can promote multiple small farmer-owned brands under an umbrella cooperative, that provides and coordinates the key services required for farmers to bring their products directly to retailers and consumers. Farmers’ cooperation with existing processors and retailers was emphasised as an important part of the cooperative strategy.

Teagasc Director, Professor Gerry Boyle referred to the market opportunities highlighted by Food Harvest 2020 that are increasingly brand-centred and consumer focused. Bord Bia’s new umbrella brand Origin Green, representing large companies such as Dawn Meats to small farmer-owned brands such as The Apple Farm of Tipperary, offers opportunities for food producers to subscribe to accreditations of sustainability that offer a point of differentiation in the international marketplace. Una Fitzgibbon of Bord Bia emphasised the potential of differentiated products, following the example of the successful and profitable Irish farmhouse cheeses industry, in the export market. She referred to Bord Bia’s international market research which demonstrates that Ireland’s traditional ‘family farm story’ is a potentially valuable branding resource for promoting farm produce in the international market for premium foods.