26 Oct 2020

The cooperative federation a tried and tested formula in Switzerland

Published in Farming
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Fenaco is a company organised along the lines of a cooperative.  At present, it brings together more than 260 agricultural cooperatives – known as Landi – belonging to its 50,000 farmer members. Upstream, Fenaco supplies farmers with seed, fodder and fertilizer, thereby guaranteeing their produce is of the best possible quality, whilst at the other end of the chain, it takes charge of the development and sale of produce via its own points of sale. A circle as virtuous as it is fruitful.

Romanens DominiqueIn order to guarantee the quality of the group's image and maintain the dynamism of its output, Fenaco takes charge of risk management for its various subsidiaries and commercial sectors through internal controls. "Its role", explains Werner Kuert(1), " is to manage all the risks identified by the various commercial sectors involved in our activity, such as monitoring the quality of the seed we import to ensure it does not contain genetically modified organisms, and the control of products intended for animal feed, such as soya-meal from South America, for the same reasons. In any case, we do our utmost to guarantee the perfect traceability of the products we buy".

Sound partnerships based on trust
One of Fenaco's great strengths is its ability to forge a relationship of complete reciprocal confidence with each of its partners. The supply of fertilizer is therefore entrusted to groups such as Yara or other European producers. This trust has, for example, meant Fenaco has never run out of supplies, neither in 2008 nor today, since solutions have always been found to compensate for variations in price and availability.

In 2008, another factor worked to Fenaco's advantage: since its sales took place a little later, the Group had time to anticipate the problems caused by soaring prices. Moreover, its limited storage capacity prevents it buying stocks likely to devalue over time, too far in advance. The contribution of the financial department to the necessity for risk management has been to entrust the purchase of currency, previously left to the discretion of each company, to its centralised accounts and cash management department. This reform has protected the Group from being confronted with dual risk problems.

Strict quality control that reassures the partners

For the member cooperatives - the Landi - such partnerships present many advantages, and in the forefront of these is the assurance of being supplied with products whose origins and quality are guaranteed and at the best market price at the time. All the products are analysed by Fenaco's laboratories, which prevents products of dubious origin being supplied, or letting problems of fodder mixture formulae (an area in which Switzerland has always distinguished itself), grain robustness, or the germinative quality of the seed, arise.

"The severity of these controls", says Werner Kuert, "is necessary because of the very high price levels practised in Switzerland generally, which means we cannot afford any weakness in terms of quality. We conduct trials in the fields on the maize, cereals, and fodder mixes ourselves. We analyse nutritional values, often in partnership with agricultural universities and research stations whom we invite to our demonstrations where they comment on our trials".

Global communication ensures information reaches the entire Group

cooperatives agricolesAnother area is crucial in maintaining the cohesion and dynamism of the Group and that is communication. Fenaco has various platforms at its disposable to circulate information. Some of these platforms bring together institutions (Assemblies and regional committees) at seminars. Others bring together the managers of the Landi at the four "Landi Dialogues" held each year. Concepts and strategies are then presented and problems of markets and organisation are discussed. Fenaco also has Internet communication tools at its disposal. The Internet site www.fenaco.com and a social media, www.swissfarm.ch, provide farmers with a forum for discussion through which they can promote their farm and its products or announce the various events they organise.

Written communication is through the review, UFA, edited by Hans Peter Kurzen(2), and the n°1 farming magazine in Switzerland. Alongside this, the "Landi Contact" relates the special events and shows that animate the life of the cooperatives. "A Landi is a member who puts our ideas into practice and is characterised by organic growth, growth on the market and an investment policy", says Dominique Romanens(3). I noticed, during the "Léman" seminar at the beginning of 2012, where our vision of the future of the Landi organisation in the next 10 years was presented, that it was an excellent means of making people ask themselves questions and project themselves into the future".

A reliable and loyal partner

Confirming Fenaco's defence of agricultural production that is capable, apart from looking after the landscape, of feeding an ever-growing population, Dominique Romanens underlines the importance in this combat of its main agro-equipment partner, Claas. "A full-liner such as Claas with its technology and products allows us to ensure the effectiveness of the productive approach to agriculture and illustrates its relevance". Founded in the 1960s, this partner has finally enabled Fenaco to distribute Claas products in Switzerland.

(1) A director and in charge of plant production /(2) Head of Communication / (3) Director and Head of the Suisse Romande region.

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