Saturday 1 October 2016

Escalating hostilities over collection of farmer levies as Larry Goodman locks horns with farm organisations

Move could seriously hit the finances of the Irish Farmers' Association (IFA)

Claire McCormack

Published 18/08/2016 | 02:30

Larry Goodman, owner of the ABP beef processing firm Picture: Steve Humphreys
Larry Goodman, owner of the ABP beef processing firm Picture: Steve Humphreys

Farming organisations have locked horns with the State's largest beef processor - ABP, owned by Larry Goodman - as the company plans to stop the controversial blanket collection of funding levies from farmers.

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The move could seriously hit the finances of the Irish Farmers' Association (IFA), with potential losses estimated at €4.7m annually should other co-ops and companies follow ABP's lead.

Confirming the move, a spokesperson for ABP said it was "disingenuous" for farming organisations to link the decision to the company's proposed deal to buy a 50pc stake in Slaney Foods.

"Based on farmer requests over the past several months ABP had decided not to make EIF [European Investment Fund] levy deductions unless requested by the farmer to do so," he said.

ABP has advised the IFA of its decision and a letter was issued to ABP's farmer suppliers.

"It is disingenuous to link this decision to the Slaney competition approval process, which is ongoing with the relevant authorities," added the spokesperson.

Currently, the EIF levy is automatically collected from sales of stock and produce at marts, and to beef and sheep meat processors and dairies.

The controversial levy, the vast majority of which goes to the IFA, is used to finance the activities of the farm organisations.

At the meeting, ABP discussed plans to introduce an 'opt-in' model for those farmers who wish to continue to pay the tariff. It is estimated that ABP collects close to €400,000 in EIF levies each year.

The EIF levy was introduced four decades ago to help fund representation for farmers in Brussels. Its main beneficiaries are the IFA and the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association (ICMSA).

The IFA is believed to be in receipt of more than 90pc of levies collected from processors, while the ICMSA is understood to receive an estimated €100,000 a year.

Although farmers have demanded reform of the controversial levies system for some time, the ICMSA says the move could make it easier for corporations to bully farmers.

ICMSA president John Comer said that well-funded farm organisations were important and that farmers shouldn't "be under any illusion" that there aren't corporations and multinationals out there who would be very happy to see farmer representative groups "weakened" through lack of funding.

Joe Healy, IFA president, said: "ABP will not dictate how IFA represents farmers or how farmers decide to support their association."

Irish Independent

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