There’s No “I” in TEAM
March 2007
The magnitude of agricultural cooperation is a reality in today’s France. Nine out of ten agricultural operations belong to a cooperative. Here in Québec, the rate is only six out of ten. It is a testament to France’s strong cooperative tradition that its farming community has been able to make the most of the various facets of regrouping and benefit from its many advantages.

In fact, France was the inspiration when we founded our first coopérative d’utilisation de matériel agricole (Cuma) or farm hardware and material cooperatives in the early 90s. Today, we are incredibly proud of our 70 coops, which allow some 2,000 Québec farmers to substantially reduce their operating costs. This type of association aimed at purchasing and using farm material has been a part of France’s social landscape for about fifty years with some 14,000 cooperatives. This type of cooperative formula has a variety of interpretations, and the term “farm material” is greatly expanded upon, going beyond its initial field of application, machinery, to identify any other equipment used in the course of operations, such as any farm product processing business like a small cheese-making operation. Recently, I even heard talk of an “Integral Cuma”, a cooperative where everything is mutualised: material, labour and land. This is certainly an indication that the concept is working.

The French also developed groupements agricoles d’exploitation en commun (GAEC) [farming association for common operations], which are basically operating companies that enable farm lands to be grouped together, thus streamlining farmer investments and making them profitable. There is also the groupements fonciers agricoles (GFA), they are businesses comprised of an association of owners with the goal of attracting outside capital to agriculture for the purpose of buying land. Although I won’t list each and every cooperative association, there are many other formulas out there. Let’s just say that the French have shown the range of their creative spirit when looking for ways of working together.

Last year, the French government added a new tool to the range already offered to farmers: société civile laitière (SCL). This new formula allows dairy producers to mutualise their production. In the opinion of Dominique Martin from the magazine Horizon (no 26, April 2006), the SCL Act is “a padlock that has been blown open, a veritable ground swell that disrupts the agricultural landscape”. In fact, up until now, the French dairy industry was running a little slow, working hard to benefit from the various pooling forums, due in most part to strict quota rules. With this new parliamentary Act, a person can now receive authorization from a prefecture to transfer producer quotas as a whole to a SCL, free of any levies.

The formula is very attractive, especially to the next generation. “With SCL, explains a young producer, we no longer have a single herd and a single tank. Feed orders will be grouped together. This will make our job that much easier.” Bottom line: what young dairy producers really want are lower costs, better organization, more power, more leisure time and a greater sense of security regarding their future. So pooling their assets seems to be a natural. Obviously, this involves more than improvisation. People must get to know each other, take the time to talk to each other. And more specifically, people must be able to talk as “we” instead of “I”. A challenge that young French producers seem ready to take on.

Could young producers be more willing to work together than their elders? Maybe. After all, they don’t have old habits to break. And besides, they recognise that helping each other remains a solid value to improve their quality of life and triumph over competitiveness. All in all, their future may be simpler… if they choose to speak as “we” rather than stand separately as “I”. As the saying goes, there’s no “I” in TEAM.

 

Colette Lebel, agr.
Director of Cooperative Affairs
La Coop fédérée
Email: colette.lebel@lacoop.coop
Fax: (514) 858-2025
 



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