“Reasons of Future” is the slogan of the 7th Congress of Agro-food Cooperatives of Spain. Last 26 and 27 of February, this Congress gathered in Valencia more than one thousand of cooperatives’ representatives from all over Spain and also from other European countries. In every Congress, one of the main objectives is to be the meeting point where cooperatives can analyze their common problems, can define their interests and can establish strategies and synergies that benefit the collective of cooperatives by presenting their situations and specific experiences.

In this sense, the Congress included four Workshops during the first day afternoon. These workshops dealt with four items that nowadays awaken a great interest within the cooperatives: energy efficiency, competitiveness and market positioning, gender equality in Boards of Directors in the cooperatives, and the relations between cooperative’s partners and its Board of Directors. All these workshops counted with the participation of many cooperative’s representatives that analyzed these items during the debates, speeches, analysis of cooperative’s own experiences, etc. 

Workshop on Efficiency and Industrial Innovation in cooperatives:

In this workshop participated Pau Rey-Garcia, from the EASME (European Agency for the SMEs) and Project Officer of TESLA project; Juan Sagarna, chief of the Services, Quality and Innovation Department in Agro-food Cooperatives of Spain; Juan Fuente, manager of the cooperative Ntrs. Sra. De Manjavacas in Mota del Cuervo; Miguel Ángel Catalá, manager of the Cooperativa Agrícola de Bétera; Amalio Llacer, director of Manar Consulting; Joaquín Duaso, manager of the Cooperativa San Miguel de Tauste; and Pedro Sánchez, technical director of the Cooperativa Oleícola El Tejar.

The workshop focussed on the challenges that cooperatives face in relation to the industrial processes they carry out. These energy challenges are important in two ways. First of all regarding how can be reduced the energy costs in olive oil mills, wineries, animal feed factories and fruit and vegetables processing plants and, in general, in all processing  of raw materials where energy is one of the main production factors. Secondly, there is the challenge of mobilizing and valorising biomass obtaining from agricultural and agro-industrial residues, such as harvesting and pruning residues or olive oil production residues, among others.

In regards with the first challenge, conclusions coming from the experience of several cooperatives show their success when implementing energy efficiency measures, introducing new technologies and equipments that can reduce considerably energy cost of the process, and making profitable the investment in few years (less than 5 years payback time). In order to identify the best technology for each case, it is interesting to have a detailed analysis of the cooperative’s energy performance through an Energy Audit. In this sense, initiatives like TESLA project (leaded by Agro-food Cooperatives of Spain) are very valued, and facilitate the access of cooperatives to energy efficiency tools and solutions.

Regarding bio-energy and renewable energies, the main conclusions drawn in the workshop were that the approach of these issues must be global. The overall production and transformation cycle must be taken into account, both for the main products (wine, olive oil) and for the sub-products, co-products and residues that could be used. All these products can be used in the different value chains, not only in the food chain but also in the energy or bio-products chains.

Finally, in relation to the specific ideas and solutions exposed in the debate, the following measures were especially interesting for the audience, and were discussed deeply: heating recovery systems (for steam boilers or heating water boilers); change of fuel source (from fuel-oil or gasoil to natural gas or biomass) sometimes just by changing the burner of the boiler; improvements in compress air systems; implementation of floating condensation; and the exploitation of all sub-products of olive oil mills for cogeneration, and also for animal feed and fertilizer.

For the complete post of the Live Blog of the Congress (in Spanish), including King Felipe VI speech during closing ceremony, you can visit the following webpage: http://chil.me/congresoagro-alimentarias 

Further ideas and improvement measures will be exposed in coming brokerage events scheduled for the next months in the four countries of the project. For detailed information about them, please check our website.