Saturday 18 August 2018

Farm finance firm IFAC set for a Brexit boom

The agri accountant is expanding to help clients cope with issues, writes Fearghal O'Connor

Solar energy can coexist with farming. Photo: Piotr Stryjewski
Solar energy can coexist with farming. Photo: Piotr Stryjewski

Fearghal O'Connor

Agri-food focused financial services provider IFAC is expanding its service rapidly to try and help farmers and food companies cope with the financial pressures brought on by Brexit.

The co-operative company is experiencing a growth rate of between 10pc and 11pc a year, its chief executive John Donoghue said.

"Brexit has given people a scare because we export about 90pc of the food we produce and Britain has always been the market we go after and we are now having to look for other markets," he said.

Donoghue believes that the agri-food sector is facing an annual €500m hit because of the likely drop in the value of the Common Agricultural Policy combined with what he believes will be a drop in the value of exports to the UK of at least 10pc.

"A lot of the demand for growth is coming from the pressures that are coming from Brexit, business planning and what the future is going to hold for farming, food and agri businesses. We are responding to that need," he said.

In response, IFAC, which currently employs 400, will grow by about 75 staff this year and 75 next year, he said.

"We have started a graduate recruitment programme and we also have qualified positions for accountants, tax advisers, financial advisers, investment advisers and strategic planning expertise. This type of planning expertise is important for our clients because a lot of the businesses in this sector graduate into it without actually putting any strategic plan in place. With the future weakness in the market, particularly around Brexit, people are now realising that they have to start planning."

Currently IFAC has 30 branches across the country, revenue of €19m last year and 18,000 customers - from startup food and farming businesses to very large agri-businesses.

IFAC is a co-operative that was formed in the mid-1970s by farming community activists to ensure that farming families could avail of management accountancy, tax consultancy and other business services as the agri-food economy became more advanced following Ireland's entry to the EU.

"By customer numbers we believe we are the biggest accountancy and professional services firm in the country and in terms of revenue we are ninth-largest," he said.

IFAC has also begun branching out into the renewables sector and was recently involved in a €25m wind farm development in County Mayo.

"We provided the tax structure and helped with the finance raising for the project. The project will break ground in the next couple of weeks and it is great for the local community. This is not some foreign entity or pension fund coming in building wind farms. This is a group of guys from rural Ireland putting together a plan, getting the best advice in the marketplace and getting something done."

IFAC is also looking at the solar energy market and hopes to promote collaborative projects between landowners and developers.

"We are not interested in the type of project where a landowner signs over an option to a developer and all the value is with the developer. We are more about making sure that our clients - farming and rural people who own the actual asset that is going to be used - get a fair share of that asset.

"We want to get involved in projects that support agriculture rather than decimate it. You see solar alongside farming, so we remain in the food production business where we need to be."

Donoghue said that although he remains very positive about the future for agri and rural business, massive challenges are looming.

"Pre-2007, farming and food businesses just were not on the agenda because it was all about building and construction," he said.

"We are almost back there again. There is a boom taking place and any time a boom takes place, farming and agriculture gets ignored. But after the crash the economy contracted by 8pc and where did people go? Farming and agri business. So we need to nurture that industry."

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