IFA delivered solid progress for farmers in 2016 – Joe Healy

There has been solid progress and delivery for IFA members by the association throughout 2016, according to IFA President, Joe Healy.

It has been nine months since Healy was elected President of the IFA, after several tumultuous months following the pay scandal that rocked the association in November 2015.

In an interview with Agriland recently the Galway farmer said that despite there being a lot of discussion about this time last year, it has shown the strength of the organisation.

The past year has also shown the distance IFA has come within that year and the success it has achieved, he said.

There’s huge challenges [ahead] and people have said to me that I came into IFA at a challenging time.

“Any of the lads you see around here on the wall (the walls of his office in the Farm Centre), the former IFA Presidents, every one of them came in at a challenging time.”

Healy said that for the people that will replace him – it will be a challenging time for them too.

What has IFA delivered for farmers this year?

The IFA President outlined some of the items which the association has delivered for farmers in 2016:

  • €10.00/ewe sheep scheme – €25m Sheep Welfare Scheme.
  • Low cost loans – the Agri Cashflow Support Loan Scheme.
  • Live exports re-opened to Turkey.
  • IFA secured significant changes to the Bord Bia Quality Assurance Scheme.
  • It secured a dedicated TAMS tillage scheme.
  • Tillage farmers for the first time can qualify for low-cost finance.
  • The young farmers top up in 2016 increased from €6,000 to €8,000.

Farm incomes was one of the challenges for the walkers in the Farmers’ Rights Campaign of 1966 and it remains a challenge now, he said.

The IFA President said that farm incomes will also be a challenge for the incoming Director General, Damien McDonald, who will take up office in January 2017.

Im very confident that Damien is an excellent choice for Director General.

“He has the outside experience but he also understands the workings within this building [Farm Centre] having worked with Macra and the IFA in the not too distant past.

“We’ll be working in conjuction with each other and with the staff and officers and membership to see what IFA can do in relation to maximising farm incomes and creating a margin there.

“We can talk about prices and they’re so important but there’s no point in having prices up there if input costs are up there to match them.”

It’s a two-pronged situation where you try and maximise prices and reduce the inputs, because it’s all about creating a margin in the middle.

“If you look at two of the main inputs in Irish agriculture, the cost of finance is one and fertiliser prices is the other.

“And if you look at the work of IFA throughout 2016, our continuous lobbying and pressure, I met with the Minister [for Agriculture, Michael Creed] two days after he had been elected and access to cheaper finance was top of our agenda that day. We kept on it right through the summer.”

Healy said that people said that he was wasting his time on this issue and to fight battles IFA had a chance of winning.

“Yet, we got €150m of a fund at 2.95%. That’s an interest rate that’s not available to any other sector in the SME sector.”

According to the IFA President that’s going to be a challenge for the year ahead; to ensure that the SBCI and the banks are ready to roll that out early in the New Year.

“We don’t [want to] find ourselves in May and June with technical glitches and IT problems and barriers being put in the way of farmers trying to draw down that money.”

Challenges within IFA

On the Con Lucey Report, which was commissioned after the fallout from the 2015 pay scandal, Healy said that the groundwork has been done and there’s a lot of work to do to ensure it’s total implementation.

“That work is ongoing and will be ongoing right throughout the New Year, whether that’s in relation to retaining and growing membership, whether it’s in relation to expenditure within the organisation or funding the organisation.

Under the chairmanship of Teddy Cashman the Lucey group (the Implementation Committee) did huge work during the year and brought incredible clarity to a number of areas in relation to funding, expenditure and corporate governance structures, as well as a number of other smaller areas.

The committee presented its work to the Executive Council as it was going along, Healy said.

“It wasn’t just a case of all the work was done and then they bombarded the council with its findings and recommendations.

“They came in July with its findings on the funding of the organisation, it later came in August with the findings of expenditure within the organisation and last month it presented its workings on corporate governance.”

Healy said that this gave the council the opportunity to bring each of those findings back to their counties and discuss them with their county executives.

Every one of the 75,000 members of IFA would have got a letter from IFA headquarters highlighting the findings of the Lucey Committee and the workings of the organisation throughout the year, inviting them to their branch AGMs to discuss the recommendations, he said.

Levies

During the course of the IFA Elections this year, one of the issues that raised its head at the election meetings was the issue of levies. Throughout the meetings candidates were pressed on alternative ways to source funding for the organisation.

Since Healy’s election and following a reccomendation from the Implementation Committee, IFA has announced that it will be sticking to the current levy collection funding model – through levy collection outlets, but that there will be a formal written contract of service provision with all levy collection outlets.

On this issue the IFA President said that the organisation has met with a number of these outlets, but that IFA hasn’t finalised anything in writing with any collection outlet yet. 

The IFA President didn’t give a time as to when he expects IFA will be in a position to write to the levy collectors.

“The idea behind meeting with a number of the key collectors is to give those collectors, or a percentage of them, the opportunity to have their input as well.

“It’s an opportunity for those organisations to raise any concerns that they might have and to discuss them before we present it as a fait accompli. It was only fair that they be contacted.”

Meeting with levy collection outlets will be ongoing up to Christmas and into the New Year, Healy said.

“Then when we get their views, we’ll be in a position to marry them in with our own and then we’ll be in a position to write to all the collectors.”

Membership of IFA

Meanwhile, when asked about IFA’s membership Healy said that there’s no point in avoiding where the association was this time last year.

“Where we were last year you couldn’t expect staff members and officers to go around asking for memberships.

“We were in the news for the wrong reasons. The IFA is used to being in the news for fighting for farmers’ rights, income and prices, fighting for farmers and delivering for them.

That wasn’t what we were in the news for this time last year and let’s not shy away from that.

“When we look at the challenges we have now and compare them to those of the walkers in 1966…the Minister for Agriculture wouldn’t meet them.”

“Everyone in positions of power ignored them. They walked to Dublin. Jackie O’Sullivan from west Cork rowed a boat from Bere Island into the mainland got on a bus to Bantry and walked from there to Dublin.

“Even after he doing that, the Minster for Agriculture refused to meet them and they had to sit on the steps for 21 days before they were met.”

Healy said challenges experienced by those farmers in 1966 gives the IFA great hope that it can overcome the issues that has faced the IFA over the past year.

It’s a sign of the strength of the organisation, that we could battle through that. Every Minister or Department that we requested to meet during the year, we go to meet them.

“That shows the respect that there’s for the organisation,” he said.