The Irish Co-operative Society (ICOS)has confirmed a record turnout of delegates for its 37th National Conference, taking place in Portlaoise today. The overall theme of the event is : ‘Managing Risk in Co-operative Businesses.’

Addressing the event,  the organisation’s president Bertie O’Leary told delegates that the terms ‘risk’ and ‘business’ are almost one and the same thing, as all business decisions tend to be about taking risks.

He added: “The purpose of this year’s conference is to explore particular types of risk and, more importantly, to explore the tools that are available or that will have to be made available to help our co-operative businesses reduce their levels of risk or their levels of exposure to risk.

“These risks can be either in the internal environment of each co-operative or in the external environment in which co-operatives are trying to trade and compete. At farm level producers are dealing with the combined challenge of volatile input costs and farmgate returns. ”

O’Leary went on to point out that that marts will have to address the challenge of falling cattle numbers and the issue of making credit available within their sector.

“It is clear from the record attendance at this year’s conference that as dairy co-operatives face into the post quota era and as our livestock marts come to terms with their potential vulnerability to credit exposure and the impact dairy expansion will have on the quality and numbers of stock being sold in the marts, that directors and executives are anxious to improve their understanding of how best risk can be managed in our co-operative businesses.”

Speaking on the specifics of volatility within the dairy sector Brussels-based analyst Bart Van Belleghem told delegates that Irish producer prices have not been as volatile as the trends recorded on international milk markets.

“This reflects the policies adopted by the co-ops and the other milk buyers,” he added.

“It may be the policy of Irish milk buyers that they wish to ride the market alone moving forward. This will, undoubtedly, expose these organisations to the full rigours of volatility – for good and for bad.

“The one obvious downside to this approach is that, during periods of investment, finance providers will want to see provision made for protection against volatility moving forward, on the part of those companies seeking additional funding. This is a core issue which Irish dairy processors will have no option but to address as they plan for 2020”

Pictured attending today’s ICOS annual conference in Portlaoise were: Gerard Melia, Lakeland Daiiries and Bertie O’Leary, ICOS president