Italian horticultural cooperatives have deep roots

In Italy cooperatives have a long history. But cooperatives aren’t a thing of the past. This is proven by United Italy, a cooperative of small growers in Latina, south of Rome. General Manager Carlo Elia has the story.

“Twenty years ago some growers realised that together you could develop more market power. My father was one of them. I was a young man then, having just left university.

The growers had a marketing problem. They sold their products directly through a Dutch wholesaler, but it was a troublesome relationship. There were pricing problems or quality control problems or both. The growers asked me to do something about their situation. I started talks with representatives of Royal FloraHolland. In 1998, as a consequence of these talks, we founded United Italy. United Italy started gathering the products of some forty Latina growers, transported them to Northern Europe to have them auctioned at Dutch, Belgian and German auctions.

After six years the cooperative expanded its services. Next to collecting and transporting we also started with sorting and packaging. Since then United Italy offers more and more services to its (approximately forty) growers/members. Growers can buy a tractor or young plants or fertilizer. If a member asks us, we can even do (part of) the growing and harvesting processes. There is no obligation to do so. But there are older growers, who do not have a successor for their nursery. They want to keep the nursery but want to get rid of the work. That’s where United Italy can help.

“It is not the cooperative that tells the members what to do. Our direction as an organization is determined by our cooperative system and by our members. The only real obligation members have is the obligation to have all their products sold by United Italy. Our main achievement is that United Italy makes life easier for its members. They don’t have to discuss price politics anymore, their price is the clock price, made at auction. If you produce a better quality product, your price will be better. It’s as simple as that. We are in regular contact with Royal FloraHolland and also visit Holland. The Dutch visit us and our members on a regular basis. We keep our members well-informed about Royal FloraHolland developments.

We want our members to participate in United Italy. Thus, since every member is well-informed and we have a personal, flexible relationship with every individual member, there is no discussion about our policy.

“What we did is similar to what Dutch growers did a hundred years ago: gaining market strength by joining forces in a cooperative. We feel supported by Royal FloraHolland and we remain strong supporters of the clock system. In the Netherlands many growers do increasingly more direct sales. But the auction clock gives us steady and solid prices because our buyers always know where to find us. We only sell at the clock so our buyers know that even our scarcest products will be available there and nowhere else.

Our relationship with Royal FloraHolland, and the certainties this gives to our members, enables United Italy to think ahead. We have a project in which we want to double our Eucalyptus production within ten years. And year by year we enlarge our flower supplies by twenty percent. With new varieties (for instance, Ranunculus) but also with existing varieties (such as Lilium and Paeonia). So by servicing our members, cooperating in United Italy gives them every reason to be happy.”

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