Farm Ireland

Tuesday 23 April 2019

Farmers risk losing control of co-ops - ICOS

Martin Keane, Glanbia chairman
Martin Keane, Glanbia chairman

Farmers risk losing control of their co-operative dairy businesses unless a pipeline of well-trained young board members is put in place.

The failure to invest in future board members jeopardised the future of the co-operative model, particularly in dairying, outgoing ICOS president Martin Keane told the society's AGM.

"We need to invest in training and development structures for current boards, and right down through our representative structures," Mr Keane said.

"If we don't invest in structures which will provide a pipeline of motivated, committed, educated, current and potential leaders, we will lose control of our businesses, and they will ultimately fail to deliver what we need from them," he warned.

"We employ increasingly more highly trained and motivated management teams, and we must, if we are to retain control of our businesses, demonstrate strong leadership, and competence," Mr Keane maintained.

The former ICOS president, who recently took over as Glanbia chairman, accepted that farmers were running increasingly complex farm businesses, but he said it would be naïve to think they could just walk into a boardroom and immediately demonstrate competence and authority. "Our governance model evolved at a time when co-ops were smaller, products and processes were simpler, and a price move of a penny a gallon was big news," Mr Keane said.


"We are now expected to provide strong governance, and to oversee the management of extraordinarily complex businesses, where the stakes involved are very high, and where mistakes are very expensive," he added.

Mr Keane described the next generation of dairy farmers as well educated, well travelled, and both highly motivated and skilled.

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"They may not, however, have had the same level of induction in the co-operative model as some of our generation," he told delegates.

"We need to challenge ourselves to reach out to those young people; get them involved in the co-op, provide training and development structures, and persuade them of the logic of co-operation," Mr Keane said.

"Social media, and peer groups, are enormously important to this generation, and we need to embrace and engage whatever media are necessary to make the co-op an important part of their lives," he said.

Regarding the co-op livestock marts, Mr Keane said that the recent hike in insurance costs as a result of accidents meant that changes to the way marts operate was inevitable.

"Nobody wants to tell people who have supported a mart all their lives that they have to get out of the penning area, but we may have to," he said.

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