Farm Ireland

Sunday 18 February 2018

Joe Healy - 'IFA has delivered tangible results and reforms since I took office last April'

IFA President, Joe Healy
IFA President, Joe Healy

A comment piece in last week's Farming Independent by Margaret Donnelly questioned the progress being made by IFA president Joe Healy since his election last April. This week, Mr Healy defends his track record and outlines the new direction the IFA is taking.

'Budget 2017 is the most recent and direct example of IFA's influence at work. Each of the deliveries for farmers were issues IFA campaigned on since my election six months ago.

Chief among these was the groundbreaking €150m loan fund, which from January will give farmers access to working capital at 2.95pc, the lowest interest rate on offer to any sector. This can be used to replace costly overdrafts or merchant credit.

IFA also originated and secured a 'step out' year on income averaging to help farmers deal with volatility, available for 2016.

We lobbied hard to achieve the €107m increase in RDP funding for 2017 to provide further support to farm incomes. This will provide an additional €69m for GLAS, allowing 50,000 farmers to participate, enable the reopening of the BDGP scheme, and the commencement of the new €25m sheep scheme, worth €1,500 to a farmer with 150 ewes.

We campaigned successfully for the full reversal of cuts to Farm Assist and 500 more Rural Social Scheme places. There was also the €400 increase in the earned income tax credit, no increase in excise on diesel and other measures. All of these items are on the record in our Pre-Budget Campaign; the loan scheme and income averaging flexibility were unique to IFA.

Let's be clear. The Budget was very positive for Irish farmers, which is why it was surprising to me, and to farmers around the country, to read commentary in last week's Farming Independent that totally ignored IFA's role in delivering results for the agriculture sector.

IFA's focus is first and foremost representing farmers and achieving the best possible results for farm families.

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Commodity prices and input costs are my constant priority. Product prices are too low and farmers are not getting their fair share. Unlike others, farmers cannot strike or withdraw labour in pursuit of better conditions.

This means we must take our fight directly to processors and retailers and pursue Government and EU action for strong retail regulation and increased transparency on processor profits. IFA mounted protests at ports exposing the low quality of imported grain samples and secured the establishment of the Grain Forum where we challenged the trade to support Irish growers.

Brexit and the depreciation of Sterling have caused huge difficulties in the beef and mushroom sectors, which justify EU CAP support measures similar to those in response to the Russian trade ban. IFA has made every effort to improve competition through live exports to Turkey and opening new markets. IFA led the fight to get co-ops to increase milk prices each month since July. The 3.5c/l price rise to date is worth over €3,000 for a 100 cow herd. On the cost side, our work has cut the cost of fertiliser and finance, two of our biggest inputs, yielding major savings.

Change and renewal

Success on these and other issues depends on a strong, united IFA. When I was elected, I promised to rebuild trust and transparency in IFA and we are making significant progress on this.

Our new leadership team has developed a plan to ensure maximum transparency and high levels of governance, significantly above legal requirements. The plan has been discussed by county executives and is detailed in an update which is being issued to all 75,000 members.

We have committed to provide details on the remuneration of key management personnel and clarity on staff salaries. We are putting in place a reformed levy with closer voluntary oversight and an opt-out facility.

All IFA members have the opportunity to discuss these developments at the current round of 948 branch meetings in every community in rural Ireland. In fact, IFA's structure means any member can contact me, or any other elected officer, to discuss their concerns. I would encourage them to do so. Open discussion towards the best solution for farmers is at the heart of the IFA."

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