Attitudes of Young Farmers to Agri Co-operatives – FRS Research Launched

Research Found Strong Appreciation from Young Farmers of the Importance of Agricultural Co-operatives in the ‘Future of Irish Farming’

On behalf of FRS Network Minister Andrew Doyle, Minister of State for Food, Forestry and Horticulture, launched the ‘Attitudes of Young Farmers to Agricultural Co-operatives’ research at FRS Networks’ Headoffice in Roscrea, Co.Tipperary on Wednesday 31st of July 2019. Survey showed that 94% of survey respondents considered that agricultural co-operatives were important for the ‘future of Irish farming.’

Attended by representatives from the co-operatives, agricultural organisations, boards and media the event offered each person a chance to hear first-hand the findings of the research conducted and presented by Dr Pat Bogue, Broadmore Research and Consultancy on behalf of FRS, which was supported by the Golden Jubilee Trust. The survey was completed by 655 young farmers through online and paper-based questionnaires.

Comments and reactions by guest speakers, Minister Doyle, Richard Kennedy, IFA, Thomas Duffy, Macra and Ray Dempsey, Central Auctions led to an open discussion on the topics surrounding the future role of co-operatives in Ireland.

Minister Doyle commented; “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.”

Thomas Duffy, President of Macra Na Feirme told of his experience during this speech and said “In my experience boards have been welcoming, but boards need to know that young people will challenge, if they see the need to, and they need 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 now puts down on paper what we have been speaking about throughout our boards and committees. The co-operative ethos is as strong today as it ever was, but now is the time to ensure the future of it. If we leave it too long more and don’t make changes now we may see a very different picture. As Co-ops we need to be vibrant and appealing to young farmers to attract them in. The research showed that they see co-ops as important with the most important attribute being that they are owned by farmers.”

Richard Kennedy, Deputy President of IFA commented; “This very valuable report must not be left on a shelf gathering dust. Give youth responsibility and they will respond. Great credit to FRS for initiating the report.”

Pat Bogue, Broadmore Research and Consultancy commented;  “The research highlights that while young farmers appreciate the importance of co-operatives to the agri industry there is 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 agricultural co-operatives to encourage greater engagement by younger farmers.”

The executive summary of the research brought to light the following:

Co-operatives 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 (not serving on boards or committees). 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;
  • Low level of involvement of young farmers in co-operatives;
  • Proportion of young farmers who are shareholders in co-operatives; and
  • Pool of people available in the future to serve on co-operative committees and boards.

The most important findings to emerge from the research included:

  • 94% of survey respondents considered that agricultural co-operatives were important for the ‘future of Irish farming’ and 87% considered that agricultural co-operatives 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 Board and 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; and
  • 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:

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

Peter Byrne, CEO, FRS Network, welcomed all to the launch of the Research and commented;

“I want to thank the Golden Jubilee Trust for their financial support of this very important research project and to Pat Bogue of Broadmore Research and Consulting who’s knowledge of the Agricultural sector, together with his research expertise, has resulted in a very comprehensive report with excellent interpretation and recommendations.

Having worked with several FRS board members both at National and local level, I truly appreciate the enormous time and commitment they have given in a voluntary capacity to the FRS organisation over the last 40 years.  I take a great sense of comfort from this research project that such commitment will be forth coming from our present day young farmers, but we need to take positive steps to encourage and support them to become actively involved in their local co-operatives both as shareholders and board members.”

Francis Fitzgerald, NCFRS Chairman commented;

“Agricultural Co-operatives have made an enormous contribution to Irish farming over the years.  Thousands of farmers have given outstanding and dedicated service to their co-operatives as board and committee members.  The leadership and vision of these very board members has resulted in the growth and development of Agricultural Co-operatives. 

It is imperative that young farmers become involved in the Co-op movement both as shareholders and as board and committee members.  The board of NCFRS are concerned that not enough is being done to encourage such involvement and hence our decision to undertake this study.  We are very pleased to read that overall young farmers have a positive attitude to Co-operatives, but they have confirmed our view that they need to be actively encouraged to become more involved.  Every Co-op has a role to play in promoting the Co-op Model, in actively encouraging share transfer to younger active farmers and nurturing the interest of young farmers in board participation.”

Dr. Sean Brady, Trust Chairman, Golden Jubilee Trust commented;

 “Golden Jubilee Trust is delighted to support this excellent initiative of FRS.  The long-term future of the Co-operative Movement in Ireland is in the hands of the young Farmers of today.  New ideas and talents are essential to continue to develop the co-operative movement so that it remains core to the needs of the Farming Families of the future.

This work will inform the co-operatives on how to engage with young farmers so as to build on the past to create an excellent future for farmers in Ireland.”

Contact: jmarks@frsnetwork.ie for a full copy of the report.

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