Question marks raised over IFA levy collection form

Concerns have been raised by farmers in relation to the Irish Farmers’ Association’s (IFA’s) Levy Collection Agreement for members to sign up to for 2019.

The levy is being gathered by so-called “collectors” – these are the milk and meat processors that have agreed to collect the IFA levy from seller transactions as set out under the association’s levy collection agreement.

Levy collections have been carried out on behalf of the farm lobby group since the 1970s.

According to the association, this contribution is necessary as “it ensures that Irish farmers and producers have a strong representation at Irish, European and international level, including a permanent presence in Brussels”.

The levy

The IFA levy is deducted at a rate of 0.15% – working out at €1.50 per €1,000 sales, or €15 per €10,000 sales – on the gross value of all produce sold by compliant farmers.

According to the IFA’s most recent accounts in its annual report 2018, European involvement fund levies were worth €3.2 million; up on the €2.96 million taken in in 2017.

In a levy agreement form seen by AgriLand, farmers who wish to opt out of paying the voluntary levy to the farming organisation must submit their name and contact details – as well as their supplier/herd number – to the relevant collector. As part of the opt-out process, a copy of the completed form is provided to the IFA.

According to the farming organisation, this is “to allow the IFA to tailor their support services regarding farmers who do not wish to contribute the levy towards the funding of the association”.

In the document, it is outlined that the IFA agrees to pay the collector an administration fee, which may be amended from time to time by agreement by both parties.

One farmer contacted AgriLand to raise concerns with regarding the provision of such details directly to the association.

Other areas of concern highlighted included the assurance that the IFA “will ensure that any commercially sensitive information will be held securely within IFA”, raising question marks over why it should be given in the first place.

The issue of indemnifying the collecting processors – compensating or securing them against legal responsibility for their actions – was another point of contention.

Indemnify collectors

The agreement form states that the IFA will indemnify the collector in the event that a legal challenge is brought by a farmer where the IFA levy has been collected, provided that the collector notifies the IFA as soon as possible of any such claim.

Elsewhere, the form states: “The IFA acknowledges that the collector is reliant on IFA for directions as to the extent to which the collector is entitled to use and process the personal data.

“Consequently, the IFA shall indemnify and keep indemnified the collector and its permitted assigns.”

These assigns are in relation to: any damages; fines; awards; expenses; liabilities; and/or losses incurred by the collector as a result of breaches by the IFA under data protection legislation.

It also covers any claim brought by “a data subject, person or supervisory authority” against the collector arising from any move by the collector (or subcontractor), under the IFA’s instruction, that has arisen out of non-compliance under data protection legislation.

Levy oversight body

The IFA has established a levy oversight body to ensure that the scheme operates in a “clear-cut and transparent manner”.

This three-person body consists of the IFA national treasurer, an independent chairperson with agricultural sector experience and an independent legal expert.

The aim of the body is to ensure that: the process is “not compromised” in any way; the IFA has pursued the interests of its members without fear or favour; the levy is collected from marts, co-ops and meat processors in a transparent and efficient manner; and that any genuine farmer concerns about the levy collection process are dealt with by the IFA.