Young dairy farmers opt for their own cooperative

13 February 2008

They may be young and critical, but that doesn’t mean that young dairy farmers don’t appreciate the value of the dairy cooperative Campina for their own dairy farms. Cooperative entrepreneurship is not passé, at least not according to most of the five hundred young Campina dairy farmers from the Netherlands, Germany and Belgium who attended the international Campina Young Farmers Day in ‘s-Hertogenbosch (the Netherlands). The majority are the business successors of present Campina members.

Throughout the day the young farmers discussed and debated in Lower House style on the theme ‘Dairy basics – Why a dairy cooperative in a growing dairy market?’ On viewing incisive statements on the market, cooperation, Campina and entrepreneurship, the young farmers had to physically choose between ‘agree’ or ‘disagree’. They were of course expected to argue their choices. The object of the debate was to obtain transparency and answers to the questions.
At the end of the day Campina chairman Kees Wantenaar concluded: “I’ve just seen a large group of very ambitious entrepreneurs. You can see that people are facing the future with an open mind. That’s the strength of this cooperative.”

Cooperative entrepreneurship is not passé
The theory ‘Cooperative entrepreneurship is passé’ induced the shuffle of hundreds of feet. The young farmers moved en masse to the ‘disagree’ square.
From the ‘agree’ square someone explained: “If as a dairy farmer you are large enough and there are more of you, then you can drive a milk truck together.” From the ‘disagree’ square came the unwavering rejoinder: “Did you hear what he said? Farmers undertaking to do something together. That’s cooperation.” “The cooperative is one of the strongest forms of entrepreneurship. It’s the most sincere involvement in an organisation you can imagine”, said Timo Huges, general director of FloraHolland. He is one of the experts with whom the young farmers can consult on this day. He further defines the cooperative: a cooperative must always demonstrate it has added value to its members (the owners).

A wonderful challenge
In times where dairy farmers are having a field day, that’s a wonderful challenge. Worldwide it appears that the demand for dairy is growing structurally faster than supply. The rosy prospects can be attributed to the growth in population and prosperity outside Europe. When young dairy farmers are asked how they can capitalise on this growth, they often reply:  “As an individual member you cannot capitalise on the world market: Campina has to do that.” Folkert Beekman, secretary of the Dutch Dairy Commodity Board confirms this: “Because dairy organisations are entering these growth markets, dairy farmers should soon discover that they can still sell the extra milk they supply at a good price.” International growth is therefore another of the arguments for the exploratory merger talks between Campina and Friesland Foods.

Investing in brands and innovations
Where more mature markets are concerned, such as those in Western Europe where Campina has a strong position, the motto is: invest in brands and innovations. These wise words were addressed to the young farmers by Wouter de Bruijn, managing director at Campina. Brands and innovations are essential to stay in favour with consumers. And that in its turn is necessary to pay the member farmers a structural and competitive milk price.

Golden generation of dairy farmers
Whatever the case may be, the prospects for dairy farmers are better than they have been in years. This point was brought home to the young farmers by Campina dairy farmer Hay Zeegers from Wellerlooi (near Venlo, the Netherlands). “I’m jealous of you people. I’ve been a dairy farmer for 40 years. In the nineteen seventies we produced so much milk that we created butter mountains that even the Russians weren’t able to get through. And now there is a shortage of milk! You are the golden generation; if you are good entrepreneurs, you can earn a good living.”