In his inaugural address to the 61st Annual General Meeting of the Irish Farmers Association at the Irish Farm Centre in Dublin today (Wed), IFA President Joe Healy said tackling the Farm Income Crisis will be his number one priority.
He said, “50 years after the Farmers’ Rights Campaign, IFA still has a really important job to do farmers. I want to thank farmers for their support and I am asking for their continued strong support of IFA”.
The IFA President said, “Farm Incomes will be top of my agenda when I meet the Minister for Agriculture. Politicians need to get serious and recognise that there is a real income crisis on Irish farms. I want to see a dedicated Minister with sole responsibility for Agriculture and Food in the new Government”.
Joe Healy also pledged to bring trust, transparency and credibility to the heart of IFA and to strengthen governance and transparency.
Prices & Incomes
Joe Healy said the single biggest challenge facing Irish agriculture is Farm Income. 2016 is proving to be an extremely difficult year and the reality is farm incomes are too low and unsustainable. The President identified the immediate issues as product prices, retail regulation, input costs (with particular emphasis on IFA’s campaign on fertiliser) and the Mercosur trade deal.
It is totally unacceptable that farmers, who do most of the work in producing high-quality food, are receiving a price below the cost of production.
The IFA President said, “There is unrelenting downward pressure by powerful retailers and processors on farm prices. This is not sustainable. Based on what consumers are paying, farmers are entitled to more. This means a viable price above the cost of production and a fair return on work and investment”.
Joe Healy said there is an urgent need for a rebalancing of power in the food supply chain. The aggressive behaviour of dominant retailers towards smaller suppliers, particularly vegetable, fruit and potato growers must be stopped.
“IFA is demanding the effective enforcement of the new Grocery Regulations. Contracts must be effective, complaints must be investigated and offenders prosecuted. We will continue to push for stronger legislation to include an independent ombudsman, and a ban on below cost selling. In Brussels, the Irish Government must support the Commission proposal that all large multinationals, including retailers and processors, will be obliged to publish their profits in each member state.”
Joe Healy said he accepted that members have felt let down at failures in transparency, governance and decision making and the events of the past six months have seen the organisation come under intense scrutiny. However, he was adamant that farmers need a strong and united IFA to fight for viable farm incomes.
He said, “We must resolve the structural failures that led to recent events. As your new President, I am determined to lead a united and strong organisation that is totally committed to putting farmers first. With the farm income challenge in every sector, farmers need a strong and adequately resourced IFA now more than ever”.
The new IFA President said the Lucey report outlined a number of recommendations. These will be implemented and IFA governance will be strengthened and transparency will be maximised.
Joe Healy set out a number of new initiatives:
- Full financial accounts will be placed before the AGM every year and put on the IFA website, for all members.
- The Remuneration Committee will set the payment levels for the President and Director General and these will be made publicly available.
- Neither the President nor Director General will be members of this committee.
- The process for the appointment of a new Director General and a review of the levy will begin immediately.
- This will be followed by a comprehensive review of all areas of income and expenditure.
- As part of this, a review of pay and working conditions at all levels will be undertaken.
On governance, Joe Healy said every elected officer will have clear roles and responsibilities. “I want to see a reinvigorated and vibrant branch network, meeting more frequently and feeding into the County Executives. The county representatives will bring the views forward into their National Committees, which are critical to developing and pursuing policy.”
The IFA structure of voluntary leadership, backed by professional and dedicated staff, is a unique and powerful mix. This teamwork gives the Association real strength in representing farmers at local, national and international level.
Joe Healy said IFA represents farmers across all sectors and all regions. “Our structures must ensure that we fully represent the needs of all farmers. Where there are specific issues affecting smaller groups of farmers, these will be taken on board.”
The new IFA President announced that he was taking two initiatives to strengthen representation: the re-establishment of the National Animal Health Committee with a broad brief to cover all areas of Animal Health and Welfare and a full National Committee combining Hill and all other Designated Areas, with the Chairman having a full seat on Council.
Farmers who have their land sterilised and devalued absolutely deserve full representation on the Council of IFA. The recently-launched IFA campaign for ‘No Designation Without Compensation’ will be stepped up.
IFA’s investigations clearly show a failure of competition in the European fertiliser market. The EU Commission must immediately abolish duties and tariffs on fertiliser imports, which will deliver between €50m and €70m in savings for Irish farmers.
The cost of bank borrowing remains unacceptably high. Farmers need access to lower interest rates as they are paying an average of 2% more that our European counterparts. IFA will continue to provide assistance for farmers in financial difficulty. The banks have an obligation here to greatly improve their levels of communication, understanding and flexibility. We will not tolerate genuine cases of farmers being left at the mercy of ‘vulture funds’.
The outcome of the UK referendum on EU membership will have far reaching consequences for Ireland and our agri-food sector. Our exports to the UK totalled €4.4bn in 2015. A UK exit could see the return of tariffs, quotas and border controls. IFA has a very clear position on BREXIT: Irish agriculture is stronger with the UK staying in the EU.
The drive by the EU Commission on TTIP and Mercosur must be halted. Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom cannot ignore the opposition from 20 EU Agriculture Ministers to her draft Mercosur trade offer. Mercosur is unequivocally bad for Irish agriculture and particularly our important beef sector. It is reckless for the Commission to propose a draft offer which would hand over 37% of the European steak market to the South Americans.
As a fundamental principle, the EU must insist on equivalence of standards. The record shows that the Mercosur countries have consistently failed to meet EU standards on animal health and welfare, traceability, the environment and the ban on hormones.