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ICOS President Edward Carr, CEO TJ Flanagan and EU Affairs Manager Damien O’Reilly were among 250 delegates to attend the COGECA Business Forum held in Tarragona, Spain earlier this month.

The focus of the conference was on young farmers. “Fostering the future of farming-the importance of Co-operatives in cultivating our new generation of young farmers,” was attended by the Spanish Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food Luis Planas who is also President of the EU AgFish Council to mark Spain’s Presidency of the EU. The conference heard how there is a deepening crisis in generational renewal right across the EU with just 11% of farmers aged under 40. In Ireland, just 6.9% of farmers are aged under 35.

The COGECA business event brought together over 250 young co-operators, representatives of Spanish and EU authorities, and agricultural experts to address the pressing issue of generational renewal in European agriculture.

COGECA is the umbrella body for Europe’s 22,000 Co-operatives. COGECA Vice-President and Co-ordinator of the Cogeca Presidency Business Forum, Christian Høegh-Andersen from Denmark opened the event by noting, “In the face of the daunting challenge of generational renewal we must acknowledge that the future of European agriculture is intertwined with the future of our young farmers. By embracing our co-operatives and harnessing their potential, we can secure generational renewal and ensure a sustainable future for agriculture.”

Given this Forum’s theme, a highlight was the active role of young farmers whose contributions were essential to its success, providing key insights into the challenges facing young people in farming, along with priorities for the future of agriculture. Additionally, a showcasing of best practices from co-operatives on how they are engaging young farmers provided strong evidence of the role co-operatives have in fostering generational renewal. In short, this event emphasised tangible opportunities for young farmers within co-operatives as entrepreneurial leaders.

ICOS EU Affairs Manager Damien O’Reilly moderated one of the sessions with a group of young farmers working in horticulture, livestock and winegrowing from Spain, France, Finland and Estonia. CEJA (EU young farmers umbrella body) Vice President Elisabeth Hidén was also part of that panel discussion. She pleaded with the EU Commission to prioritise the needs of young farmers in the next CAP. The conference also heard how European Co-operatives face the challenge of attracting young talent, be it to work in co-ops or serve on co-operative boards. ICOS President Edward Carr also held meetings with other Co-operative Presidents including Dominique Charge President at La Coopération Agricole in France. Mr. Carr said, “Ireland has always had a close relationship with France when it comes to farming and in particular dairy farming. Following Brexit, they are now our closest EU neighbours. We spoke about the importance of working together to support young dairy farmers. I was shocked to hear from Mr Charge that France faces a situation where there will be a decline in milk production due to the shortage of successors. We must make sure that our young farmers do not face the same prospect.”

Tags: Cogeca, ICOS President, Young farmers