Obituary: Christian Pèes, French co-operator and agriculture innovator

He had led Euralis, one of the largest agricultural co-ops in France, and Cogeca, the European confederation of agri co-ops

Christian Pèes, the former president of Euralis agricultural co-op, died on 30 October, aged 64, after a long illness.

A pioneer of technological innovation in agriculture, Mr Pèes had been at the helm of Euralis for 21 years, from 2000 to 2021.

During his consecutive mandates he led co-op through the creation of Lidea, an international seed company; the merger of Euralis Semences and Caussade Semences; and the acquisition of Rougié, a French speciality products brand. He also played a key role in campaigning against changes introduced by the 2019 Egalim law, which affected co-ops.

In addition to leading Euralis, he served as president of Coop de France and of Cogeca, the European confederation of agricultural co-ops, from 2012 to 2015.

His involvement in agriculture began after his father died prematurely and he had to abandon studying geography at the University of Pau to take over the family corn and soya farm.

As an innovator, he was not afraid to take risks. In a 2014 interview with Co-op News he explained how Euralis had taken the decision to cultivate hemp – a relative of cannabis – in an attempt to position membersin the innovative and emerging market of biomaterials.

“This was a risk that the co-operative could take and sustain,” he said. “To meet the needs of farmers, we support and structure the chain from upstream to downstream.”

Euralis president Christophe Congues paid tribute to Christian Pèes in an obituary published on the co-op’s website.

“Christian was able to anticipate the changes in agriculture and food,” he wrote. “He was one step ahead. He was concerned about his region and supporting a family agriculture resolutely turned towards the future. Christian was a committed person with great curiosity, a desire to understand and confront his ideas with an open mind, and a willingness to listen to others. He was not a demagogue, but was realistic and always spoke the truth.”

Cogeca president Ramon Armengol said the passing of Christian Pees left a “huge void”.

“He has led our organisation in such a way that he has been a true example of leadership. Through his work, his energy and his commitment he has been a real inspiration for all co-operative representatives, but also for all our fellow farmers.

“I only knew Christian personally since 2018, when I joined the big Cogeca family and its presidency, but his reputation, his vision, his technical expertise, his political acumen, his leadership and his spirit of collaboration and mutual help were far from unknown to me,” he said.

He added: “He generously shared his knowledge, expertise, and skills with us. Christian embodied all the qualities of a fine person. He was not only an outstanding colleague but also a good friend to many of us. Christian was a brilliant man, always logical and full of common sense. He always worked with passion, integrity and energy. He was always ready to share his ideas and information and to take on challenges.

“Indeed, all of us who knew Christian will agree that he was an extraordinary and dynamic person, with a great intelligence, a big heart and a rare friendliness, who will be greatly missed.”

He is survived by his wife and their children.