Farm Ireland

Saturday 16 December 2017

Close to 50pc of Dairygold suppliers opt out of farm body levies

Claire Mc Cormack

Claire Mc Cormack

Just 55pc of Dairygold's 4,500 milk and grain suppliers paid membership levies last year to any of the farm organisations.

The low level of support for the farm bodies was confirmed by Dairygold CEO, Jim Woulfe, at the co-op's recent annual general meeting.

Asked about farm organisation levies from the floor, Mr Woulfe replied that "approximately 55pc" of Dairygold's farmer suppliers mandated the co-op to make such payments.

Mr Woulfe also told the meeting that the collection of levies for farmer representative bodies was carried out free of charge.

The low percentage of Dairygold farmers paying levies, which surprised many in attendance, highlights the continuing funding challenge facing the farm organisations.

Earlier this year the IFA admitted that it had suffered a €1.4m hit in overall revenue. A 12pc reduction in levies accounted for a sizeable proportion of the income drop, with returns falling from €4.62m in 2015 to €4.1m last year, down €500,000.

While the move by the Larry Goodman-owned ABP Group to offer farmer the option to 'opt-in' to levies since last August has certainly hit the finances of both the IFA and ICMSA, a fall-off in dairy farmer support poses even greater concerns.

The post-quota growth in milk output, from around 5.5bn litres in 2014 to 7bn litres this year, offers the potential for a €700,000 windfall in additional levies for the farm organisations.

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But, even allowing for last year's low milk prices, the reduction in levy returns would suggest that this extra income source has not been fully tapped.

However, the support among suppliers varies amongst the country's dairy processors. Lakelands confirmed that 10pc of farmers had opted out of paying levies to farm bodies over the past year.

While co-op chief executive Michael Hanley said there was still a high level of participation amongst farmers, he declined to provide the exact number of farmers making payments.

Kerry Group said that around 75pc of its 3,300 suppliers continue to pay levies, with the figure remaining relatively static. Similar figures are reported in West Cork.

An IFA spokesman said the organisation needs farmers to support the work of its 4,000 farmer officers across 947 branches, 29 county executives and 22 commodity committees.

"The myriad of Government departments, EU institutions and state agencies that IFA has to go up against are hugely resourced and IFA needs to be able to stand toe to toe with them, without fear or favour.

"An engagement process has been underway in recent months with the levy collection outlets with a view to putting more formality and transparency around the system. The Dairygold levy is an IFA/Macra levy and we are working closely with Macra on the implementation process," he said.

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