Dairy Cooperatives in Ireland produce products worth 13 billion euros

Alison Graham, the European Affairs Executive at Irish Co-operative Organization Society, spoke about the key features of agricultural cooperatives in Ireland at «Ypaithros Chora»

What is the state of play/basic information/figures: number of coops, turnover, key sectors, share of country’s production and agri-export activity.

Dairy Co-operatives:
Total number: 23; Members: 69 000; Employees: 13 000; Total Sales: 14 billion; Market Share: 99%; Exports: 90% of production- 40% of this to international markets

Livestock Auction Marts:
Total number: 26; Members: 39 000; Employees: 800; Total Sales: 180 000; Market Share: 66%

Breeding Societies:
Total number: 6; Members: 11 000; Employees: 54; Total Sales: 8 000

Fishing Co-operatives:
Total number: 6; Members: 300; Employees: 100; Total Sales: 100 000

Fruit and Vegetable Co-operatives:
Total number: 1 (Commercial Mushroom Producers); Members: 95; Employees: 13; Total Sales: 200 000

Other co-operatives (forestry, retail stores, farm services):
Total number: 38; Members: 63 000; Employees: 573; Total Sales: 400 000

What challenges are agri-cooperatives facing in your country at the moment?
  • Brexit, both in terms of implications for trade with the UK (our largest single trading partner) and implications for cooperatives operating on an all-Ireland basis, with members and processing facilities on both sides of the Irish-UK border.
  • Generation Renewal: the average Irish farmer is now 56 years old and average co-operative board member is 60. There is a urgency to get more young people involved in farming and involved in their co-operative. ICOS together with other EU organisations are involved in an Erasmus+ programme called LeadFarm to identify ways to better engage these young farmers and develop their relationship with their coop.
  • Responding to extreme weather and building environmental credentials: A long and difficult winter caused a number of challenges for co-operatives this year, and saw staff of many co-operatives impressively battling through snow storms and hurricanes to collect milk from members or run processors. It also however demonstrated the extent to which our climate is changing and the necessity for co-operatives to ensure that our model of farming is resilient enough to cope with such adverse events in future and to help mitigate its cause.
What are the strategic priorities set by your organization in favor of the support and development of agri-coopreatives in your country?

Within our organisation we aim to support to our co-operative members through:

  • Setting standards and providing advice and promoting best practice in governance
  • Providing training and the supports for professional development in order to generate leadership and competitiveness
  • Representing co-operatives across the different agricultural sectors on a national and EU level and lobbying for favourable policy to help them develop and grow their business
  • Promoting greater member participation within co-operatives, particularly amongst younger generations of members.
Is the national legal framework favorable to the development of agri-coops? Have there been any recent positive developments when it comes to this? Is your organization currently taking any initiative to improve the national legal framework?
Alison Graham, European Affairs Executive at Irish Co-operative Organisation Society
Alison Graham, European Affairs Executive at Irish Co-operative Organisation Society

The primary statute governing co-operatives in Ireland dates back to 1893 and as such its terms are out-dated when compared to the efficiencies afforded to companies and it is often too inflexible for modern co-operative enterprises and structures.

However this legislation is currently undergoing a review.

ICOS has been calling for such a review for years and is now providing a huge amount of input into the consultation process, calling for certain efficiencies for co-operatives and highlighting the unique contribution that the co-operative model makes both to the livelihoods of producers and to the communities in which they operate.

A short comment on what you expect from  the CAP post 2020 when it comes to agri-cooperatives.

The importance and value of producer co-operatives has been highlighted throughout 2017 from the landmark decision of the European Count of Justice within the “Endives” case to the Omnibus regulation (2017/2393). We hope that the CAP post 2020 will build on this further, through the extension of official recognition to agricultural co-operatives and facilitation of multisectoral co-operatives within the recognition criteria.

In addition, we are calling for further support funding to be provided to co-operatives across all sectors to help them set up and develop their business, in particular with regard to investing in their members development (training, activities for young farmers etc.), environmental activities, action within the bio-economy and the provision of smart farming technology, to enable them to better support farmers and rural economies. We also hope that co-operatives will be better facilitated in terms of access to EU funding programmes for innovation and promotion.


Agricultural Cooperatives in Ireland produce dairy products worth 13 billion euro
Dairy Cooperatives in Ireland produce products worth 13 billion euro
What are agri-cooperatives and your organization doing in order to promote cooperative education?

At ICOS we have established a dedicated institution for the setting and promotion of best practice in co-operative governance. It is called The Plunkett Institute, named after the founder of the co-operative movement in Ireland, Horace Plunkett. This institute, establishes the governance principles for co-operatives societies in Ireland and in order to ensure compliance, together with the ICOS learning and development team, provides numerous education programmes for co-operative board directors, members and staff. These programmes focus on everything from best practice on the basic everyday running of the cooperative business to the long term development of leadership skills. There is a requirement for ongoing continuous professional development for co-operative board members over a 2-year cycle, thus, further supporting a lifelong learning model and creating a sustainable future of the sector.

In addition, ICOS has developed a Diploma course in Corporate Direction for the Co-operative Sector in conjunction with a leading Irish university, University College Cork. This is attended by board directors and senior management from co-operatives across the country, designed to address their upskilling needs in this rapidly changing agri- business environment.The key aim of the programme is to improve the leadership capabilities of directors and senior management in positively influencing the strategic direction and corporate governance of food companies in Ireland.

How are agri-cooperatives performing in the milk sector?

Since the lifting of EU quotas in the dairy sector, Irish dairy co-operatives have been undergoing rapid change. Last year was the third year of the quota free era and our milk supply grew by a 9% to reach 7.2bn litres. While this level of supply growth is understandable and was also very much predicted and prepared for by the sector in the proceeding years, through investment of new infrastructure and the development of new international export markets, it nonetheless poses challenges particularly in the context of the environment with regards to water quality targets and incoming climate emissions restrictions, labour availability and animal health & welfare.

The priority for the sector going forward is very much to ensure that any growth in production is done sustainably and that we continue to meet regulatory and consumer demands regarding our environmental footprint. Efforts are well underway, with dairy co-operatives across the country piloting on-farm water quality improvement projects and funding research into the efficiencies that can be made on farm and at processing level to reduce emissions.

With this in mind dairy cooperatives have also invested heavily in renewable energy source, such as anaerobic digesters and biomass, which are equally helping to reduce food waste.