The Irish Natura and Hill Farmers’ Association (INHFA) has added two new branches to its network in the southwest of the country this week.

The association’s national president, Vincent Roddy, visited Co. Kerry to oversee the establishment of the branches in the west and east of the county.

“A lot of the members are engaging. The responsibility for us now is to represent those members and to make sure those branches are included and they get to feed into INHFA policy,” Roddy told Agriland

“Hopefully, we will get other branches in Kerry and in other parts of the country,” he added.

The INHFA Top of Coom branch on the Kerry-Cork border was established on Monday (October 17), while the west Kerry branch was founded during a meeting at Dingle Mart last night.

INHFA president Vincent Roddy addressing farmers in Dingle Mart

The former vice-chair of the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) in Kerry, John Joe Fitzgerald, was elected to lead the west Kerry group.

In August, Fitzgerald resigned from his position and left the IFA on medical grounds.

The west Kerry sheep farmer was among several members of the Kerry IFA county executive who were contacted following a formal complaint being made to IFA headquarters.

He maintains that he has “nothing to be ashamed of” and has “no regrets”.

Fitzgerald told Agriland that he was looking forward to representing local farmers.

“With all that has happened this year I was delighted to come here tonight and have an organisation that understands the type of farming we do in west Kerry,” he said.

“We have had no representation here on the ground with years. I’ve started up the [INHFA] branch here and I will be part of that. There’s a lot of issues to deal with.

One of the key objectives for the new chair will be to ensure that young people stay in the region and on the land.

“I have five kids and I would like to see them all grow up and work around this locality on the Dingle Peninsula,” he said.

When asked about the current strength of the farming lobby, Fitzgerald said:

“From what I could see being involved in that farming organisation [IFA], it was all about the self-image and photo sessions. There was no vocalism there on behalf of the small farmers.

“We were always playing catch up, we were behind with the issues instead of being ahead and having the solutions for the issues that were coming up on the ground.

“Farming organisations have lost their way. We need to get back to basics, on the ground helping the family farms, the small farms, and being vocal on their behalf and have no other agenda except working for the farmers on the ground.

“There’s no certainty about farming at the moment, from day to day and week to week, the goal posts keep changing and you can’t plan ahead,” he said.

Fitzgerald said that a lot of farmers do not know what is involved in the new Agri Climate Rural Environmental Scheme (ACRES).

He also said that proper discussion and more information is needed on proposed legislation from the European Union on nature restoration and peatlands.