Is balance lacking on agri-food boards and committees?

Something caught AgriLand‘s attention the other day, while on the phone to a tillage farmer who had attended the Ag-Climatise Forum on Wednesday, February 12.

The farmer in question said it was a step forward that tillage farmers had been invited to the event.

They were right. Like AgriLand has commented so many times before, tillage seems to be under-rated in this country. The sooner the Government and civil servants begin to rate it more importantly, the better. The tillage sector can solve many problems.

AgriLand then decided to see if tillage farmers are being represented where it matters. The answer is no; they aren’t.

11 people sit on the board of Teagasc and they are appointed by the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine. The representatives are nominated by farming organisations, the food industry, universities, the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and from Teagasc staff.

This seems like a fairly safe way of ensuring balance. Different bodies can put forward a representative. However, at present, balance appears to be lacking on the Teagasc board.

Five of the 11 members are dairy farmers, including the chairperson – Liam Herlihy. Two representatives are from the University College Cork (UCC) schools of business and microbiology, respectively.

The Department of Agriculture and Teagasc each have one representative, while the managing director of Grassland Agro and the vice-president of research and development at PepsiCo Nutrition also feature.

Not only is tillage under-represented, but other sectors appear to be under-represented too, with the notable exception of dairy farming.

Ireland’s Agri-Food Strategy 2030

Let’s also look at the committee that was formed to develop Ireland’s Agri-Food Strategy to 2030.

Yet again, balance appears to be lacking. While there’s plenty of input in evidence from the wider agricultural industry (farm bodies are represented), there is a shortage of input from people who actually produce the food and feed the supply chain.

However, the dairy industry must surely be commended – based on how well represented it is on such boards.

Perhaps other sectors could learn a lesson or two on how to secure such positions on influential boards and committees. Indeed, why do higher authorities not set out to ensure that all sectors are properly represented?

As far as AgriLand can decipher, Diageo serves as the only body with a tangible link to the tillage sector on the committee for Ireland’s Agri-Food Strategy. The horticulture sector is represented by Keelings. While the tillage sector falls within the remit of Bórd Bia and the IFA, it doesn’t appear to be the most pressing area of concern for either.

If the tillage industry was taken seriously, there might be more home-grown food and animal feed across this island. This would not only benefit the country’s “green image” but could also contribute to reducing our greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

Can the agricultural sector afford to lose tillage hectares? Understanding the sector, and its benefits, might well provide the wider agricultural industry with some much-needed solutions.

Who sits on the board of Teagasc?
  • Liam Herlihy (chairperson) – a dairy farmer. He was appointed chairperson of FBD Holdings in May 2017 having joined the board in 2015. Previously he was group chairperson of Glanbia Plc for over seven years in the period to June 2015. He is a former director of the Irish Dairy Board (now Órnua) and the Irish Co-operative Organisation Society (ICOS);
  • Tommy Cooke – a dairy farmer and member of the ICMSA’s National Council. He is a former chairperson of the ICMSA Dairy Committee and Rural Development Committee;
  • Gerald Fitzgerald – chairperson of Food Microbiology and head of School of Microbiology at UCC. He is the first director/CEO of Food for Health Ireland and deputy director of Alimentary Pharmabiotic Centre;
  • Patrick Duffy – a dairy farmer and chairperson of Aurivo Co-operative Society. Representative of the ICOS. Pat was nominated by ICOS;
  • Eilís O’Connell – assistant secretary at the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine with responsibility for human resources and corporate affairs;
  • John Buckley – a dairy farmer and former recipient of the FBD Young Farmer of the Year 2013 and Nuffield Scholarship in 2015. John was nominated by Macra na Feirme;
  • Martina Donnelly – business and technology advisor at Teagasc, Advisory and Training Centre, Mellows Campus, Athenry, Co. Galway. Teagasc staff representative;
  • Cliona Murphy – vice-president of research and development, PepsiCo Nutrition and site lead for PepsiCo’s Cork research and development centre;
  • Brian Rushe – a dairy farmer and deputy president of the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA);
  • Liam Woulfe – managing-director of Grassland Agro and of Freshgrass Group;
  • Thia Hennessy – chairperson of Agri-Food Economics and Dean of Cork University Business School at UCC.

Who sits on the committee to develop Ireland’s Agri-Food Strategy 2030?
  • Tom Arnold – chairperson;
  • Sharon Buckley – group commercial director, Musgraves;
  • Laura Burke – director general, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA);
  • Ailish Byrne – head of agriculture at Ulster Bank;
  • Kieran Calnan – chairperson, An Bórd Iascaigh Mhara;
  • Philip Carroll – chairperson, IBEC Meat Industry Ireland;
  • Frank Convery – senior partner, EnvEcon;
  • Thomas Duffy – president, Macra na Feirme;
  • Brendan Dunford – manager, Burren Programme;
  • Julie Ennis – country president, Sodexo Ireland;
  • Paul Finnerty – co-founder and chairman, Yield Lab Europe;
  • Joe Healy – president of the IFA;
  • Thia Hennessy – dean and chairperson of agri-economics at UCC;
  • Liam Herlihy – chairperson, Teagasc;
  • Caoline Keeling – CEO, Keelings;
  • Jerry Long – president, ICOS;
  • Oliver Loomes – chairperson, IBEC Drinks Ireland and Ireland Director and chairperson Diageo;
  • Dan MacSweeney – chairperson, Bórd Bia;
  • Pat McCormack – president, Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association;
  • Tom Moran – former secretary general at the Department of Agriculture;
  • Brian Murphy – chairperson, IBEC Forest Industries Ireland and CEO, Balcas;
  • Pat Murphy – chairperson, IBEC Dairy Industry Ireland and CEO, Kerry Ireland;
  • Larry Murrin – IBEC Prepared Consumer Foods Council and CEO, Dawn Farm Foods;
  • Colm O’Donnell – president, Irish Natura and Hill Farmers’ Association (INHFA);
  • Seán O’Donoghue – CEO, Killybegs Fishermans’ Organisation;
  • Dolores O’Ríordan – director, University College Dublin (UCD) Institute for Food and Health;
  • Terence O’Rourke – chairperson, Enterprise Ireland;
  • Edmond Phelan – president, Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association (ICSA);
  • Alice Stanton – professor, Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland and Director for Human Health, Devenish;
  • Siobhán Talbot – CEO, Glanbia.