Agriculture

Tipperary farming: FRS research shows young farmers see role for co-ops

Report 'must not gather dust'

Tipperary Star reporter

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Tipperary farming: FRS research shows young farmers see role for co-ops

At the Launch of the Attitudes of Young Farmers to Agri Co-operatives in FRS Network head offices in Roscrea, Peter Byrne, FRS Network; Dr Pat Bogue, Broadmore Research and Consultancy; Andrew Doyle,

Agricultural co-ops were important for the future of Irish farming, according to 94% of young farmers surveyed in a major FRS poll

The Attitudes of Young Farmers to Agricultural Co-operatives survey was launched at FRS headquarters in Roscrea last week by Junior Minister for Food, Forestry and Horticulture Andrew Doyle.

The findings of the research conducted and presented by Dr Pat Bogue, Broadmore Research and Consultancy on behalf of FRS, supported by the Golden Jubilee Trust, was completed by 655 young farmers.

“The report’s recommendations can pave the way in ensuring co-op’s continue to be successful long into the future. The research findings should be considered by co-operatives and reviewed in the context of their own situation. Farmers need to be informed, advised and convinced about the importance of holding shares and getting actively involved in co-operatives,” said Deputy Doyle.

Thomas Duffy, president of Macra Na Feirme said that in his experience boards had been welcoming, but boards need to know that young people will challenge, if they saw the need to, and they needed to be ready to embrace this and be open to change.

Ray Dempsey, chairman of Central Auctions, spoke about his long-standing experience with the co-op structure and said the research put down on paper what they had been speaking about throughout its boards and committees.

“This very valuable report must not be left on a shelf gathering dust. Great credit to FRS for initiating the report,” said Richard Kennedy, deputy president of IFA.

Dr Brogue said that the research highlighted that while young farmers appreciated the importance of co-operatives to the agri industry there was a level of complacency about becoming shareholders in the co-operatives with which they trade.

“There also appears to be a hesitancy with regard to getting involved in committees and boards. There is an opportunity for co-ops to encourage greater engagement by younger farmers,” he said.

The research showed that co-ops continue to play an important role in Irish agriculture. However the level of involvement in co-operatives among young farmers is variable.

Many young farmers trade / engage with co-operatives but are not shareholders and are not actively involved in the running of them.

There appears to be a slow rate of transfer of shares in agricultural co-operatives to young farmers and more shares are being transferred to/inherited by non-farmers.

National Co-op Farm Relief Service (NCFRS / FRS Network) is concerned about the transfer of shares to younger farmers and non-farmers.

The most important findings to emerge included

- 94% of respondents considered that agricultural co-ops were important for the future of Irish farming

- 87% considered that co-ops were important for their own future in farming;

- 55% saw a benefit / possible benefit to be a shareholder in a co-operative with which they traded/engaged with

- Shares in agricultural co-operatives were transferred to the respondent or other family members in one quarter of farm families

- Transfer of shares in agricultural co-operatives had been discussed within the farm family of one in five respondents

The main ways suggested for encouraging share transfer included

- discounted shares

- incentives to encourage transfer

- education and information

- Two-thirds indicated that they were interested in purchasing agricultural co-operative shares within the next 5 years;

- 55% of respondents knew a board member of a dairy co-operative;

- 44% were definitely / possibly interested in future membership of a dairy co-operative coard

- 33% were definitely / possibly interested in future membership of a co-operative livestock mart board

- One quarter believed that agricultural co-operative boards were open and welcoming

- Two-thirds of respondents were interested / possibly interested in training on the role of co-operative boards

- The most important attribute of co-operatives identified by respondents was that they were farmer owned / controlled.

The conclusions from the research can be summarised as follows among young farmers:

- Appreciate the importance of agricultural co-operatives

- Are engaging with agricultural co-operatives on a regular basis

- Have a low level of share ownership and have had limited shares transferred to them by parents / family members

- Had limited discussion about the transfer of shares with parents / family members

- Are interested in purchasing co-operative shares in the future

- Appreciate the attributes of co-operatives but are not convinced about the benefits of being a shareholder of co-operatives which they trade / engage with

- Believe that financial insecurity and fear contribute to the delay in share transfer

- But are not unduly concerned about the slow / delayed transfer of shares or the transfer of shares to non-farmers

- Believe that incentives and information are critical to encourage share transfer

- Are potentially interested in becoming involved in co-operative boards but will need to be encouraged

- As there is a level of scepticism about the extent to which co-operative boards are open and welcoming.

The recommendations from the research can be summarised as follows:

- The research findings should be considered by co-operatives and reviewed in the context of their own situation

- Farmers need to be informed, advised and convinced about the importance of holding shares and getting actively involved in co-operatives

- Farmers engaging with agricultural co-operatives need to be encouraged to become shareholders and be actively involved

- Share transfer and purchase need to be actively facilitated and encouraged

- The potential interest in future involvement in boards and committees needs to be nurtured

- Boards need to ensure that they are ‘open and welcoming’ to new members

- Innovative approaches to demonstrate the role, function and importance of co-operatives should be developed.

Peter Byrne, CEO, FRS Network, thanked the Golden Jubilee Trust for their financial support and Dr Bogue, whose knowledge of the agricultural sector, together with his research expertise, had resulted in a comprehensive report with excellent interpretation and recommendations.

Francis Fitzgerald, NCFRS chairman said that agricultural co-operatives had made an enormous contribution to Irish farming over the years.

Dr Sean Brady, chairman, Golden Jubilee Trust, said that the trust was delighted to support the initiative.