Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney TD, Matt Dempsey, chief executive of The Agricultural Trust, the chairman of global dairy giant ARLA Foods, Ake Hantoft, Enterprise Ireland CEO Julie Sinnamon, University College Dublin Public Health Professor Pat Wall and Food Harvest 2020 Chairman Dr Seán Brady will be among a top line-up of senior Irish and international speakers who will address risk management in co-operative businesses at the ICOS National Conference in Portlaoise on  Monday 25 November.

The conference will address key challenges, risks and opportunities facing the co-operative dairy and livestock sectors as global food demand continues to grow, market volatility remains in prospect and EU milk quotas will be abolished in little over a year from now.

The keynote opening addresses will be provided by Minister Coveney and Bertie O’Leary, president of ICOS,  setting the scene for a day of crucial insight and discussion on the future of the Irish agri-food industry.

Matt Dempsey, chief executive of The Agricultural Trust, will address the global risk environment for food firms followed by three special workshops for delegates.  These will cover the ‘Appropriate Tools to Counter Price Volatility’; ‘Whether Expanding Dairy Enterprises represent an Opportunity or Threat for Livestock Marts’ and ‘How Producers can Manage Volatility when Purchasing Inputs’.

The workshops will be addressed by Bart Van Bellegham, managing director of the European Dairy Trade Association, Eucolait;  Joe Burke of Bord Bia’s meat division and David Hickey, commercial director of R&H Hall. Each workshop will have a chair and facilitator, and will report viewpoints and findings back to the main conference in a plenary session.

The pulse of the conference will quicken further into the afternoon, chaired by Dr Seán Brady, with special presentations by Julie Sinnamon, chief executive of Enterprise Ireland, on ‘The Strategic and Structural Issues challenging the Irish Food Sector’;  and Ake Hantoft, chairman of Denmark’s Arla Foods on ‘Board Decision Making in an Environment of Growing Risk’.

UCD Associate Professor of Public Health, Dr Pat Wall, will provide a thought provoking presentation on the risks for food companies in a volatile consumer environment – ‘Addressing the Risk of Having No Customers’ – and how the food industry needs to have contingencies in place to manage public confidence in the event of crisis.

The day will be rounded off with a rapporteur summary of proceedings by ICOS CEO Seamus O’Donohoe, who said:  “This conference will pose challenging questions and, given the calibre of speakers attending, we expect to get thought provoking and insightful answers.

“The Irish food industry is poised for further growth but there are risks and volatility which must be managed in our approach to the global marketplace.  Trade agreements, environmental concerns, consumer confidence, the pricing of inputs and the overall sustainability of production from farm to fork all form part of this equation.

“In the dairy sector, we need to curb the impacts of market volatility post quota and to develop risk management tools which might be used to protect market returns.   A concerted national effort is needed to assist farmers in managing increased milk production and the inevitable price volatility that will characterise global markets, both for dairy products and for supply inputs.  Irish markets have had substantial volatility over the last five years even with a quota environment to control supply and this will only increase post 2015.

“Europe is significantly behind the US in the development and use of market tools to manage price volatility.  Useful initiatives have already been taken by some co-operatives in the area of fixed price schemes, however, more work needs to be done on a collaborative basis to identify and develop appropriate income stabilising tools for farmers.”

ICOS is inviting other senior agri-sector interests to attend this strategic national conference with registration details available hereAgriLand will be reporting live from the conference.

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