A partner since 2011, Fert and the GBDC technical office are working together in Georgia, in the Samtskhe-Javakheti region, to support dairy farmers in this mid-mountain area. Following a study trip to France in 2014, an association of 11 farmers, called Ertoba, was formed. Five years later, the association has matured and is questioning its roles and organizations.

From 1 to 11 October 2019, ten Ertoba farmers and seven GBDC technicians came to France to better understand the diversity of professional agricultural organizations in the dairy sector. An 11-day trip that took them to Auvergne, Bresse, Doubs and Haut-Rhin. A look back at the key messages that the delegation retained.

At farm level, farmers trained, professional and proud of what they do

“I am President of the Foissiat-Lescheroux cooperative, the Syndicat du Beurre et de la Crème de Bresse PDO and director of my CUMA… but above all, I am a farmer”

During their trip, participants had the opportunity to visit several farms. The discussions with the farmers made it possible to realize that we were dealing with real professionals, who work themselves on their farms, and who seek to control the various production factors: on reproduction, forage production and food, equipment and buildings, the sale of milk… each producer interviewed explained his choices, on the basis of data that he measures and analyses himself or with the help of technicians. A global reasoning of his company, which is also reflected in the vocational training modules offered to young people in agricultural high school.

Whether in the alleys of the Sommet de l’Elevage in Cournon or during the Ouhans agricultural competition in the Doubs, the Georgian delegation was struck by the attitude of the breeders: “The breeders are proud of their profession: rewarding their work and their herds with prizes is stimulating”. These are events where farmers “prove their strength! And it makes you proud! “, they say.

Farmer-led organizations for farmers

To assume this role of “entrepreneur”, the farmers we met all stressed the importance of the organizations that surround them – organizations in which they themselves have taken on responsibilities. CUMAs (Cooperatives for the Use of Shared Material) have been a highly appreciated form of collective organization, as they are concrete and easily “transposable” to the Georgian reality.

In each territory visited, the milk collection cooperatives (Bressor, Foissiat cooperative, Brune fruitière de la Brune) testified to the services they offer their members (firm cooling, milk purchase and collection, technical advice with the Charter of Good Breeding Practices, or quality control) in order to make the most of the milk – whether for resale to a private dairy or direct processing by the cooperative.

Less known to Georgians, producer unions also play an important role: in these organizations, producers unite to defend the price of milk or to defend a product and a sector organization on a territory through the establishment of geographical indications.

Finally, on a broader scale, other actors illustrated the wide range of possible producer organisations: the BTPL (Bureau Technique de Promotion Laitière) – a union of cooperatives, which provides technical, economic and organisational advice to farms, or Umotest – Coopex Montbéliard which ensures genetic improvement and the spread of the Montbéliarde breed.

Whether they are technical, economic or trade union organisations, these testimonies revealed the importance of the commitment of responsible leaders capable of leading all these organisations, and the presence at their side of technicians. These organisations also operate thanks to the commitment of each member breeder necessary to project themselves over time, and to the relationship of trust that is established by defining clear rules and control.

Now back in the Caucasus, the delegation is preparing a day of feedback on the lessons it learned from this trip to other livestock farmers in the region and to institutions and partners. This should give a new impetus to their actions in the coming months.

Martial Marguet, farmer in the Doubs, vice-president of the FNPL and Fert administrator, explains the Godefroy law established in 1969 on the payment of milk for quality and the role of the dairy interprofession.