IRISH Farmers' Association president Eddie Downey has made an impassioned plea to the EU Agriculture Commissioner and the Agriculture Minister to help remedy a range of serious problems facing farmers.
Mr Downey also pledged to make farm safety the organisation's key priority for the coming year. His remarks follow a record number of farm deaths last year and a signal from Brussels that farm grants may be linked to farm safety standards.
EU Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan, attending his first official engagement in Ireland, and Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney were among a number of guests at a special function yesterday to mark the foundation of the National Farmers' Association in 1955, which soon became the Irish Farmers' Association.
Hundreds of the farm association's early activists, leaders and staff members gathered for the day-long celebration, and Mr Downey saluted the founders' courage and vision.
The IFA president said that in January 1955, when farmers gathered at the Four Provinces Ballroom in Harcourt Street, Dublin, Irish agriculture was in a parlous state. He said that the farm youth organisation, Macra na Feirme, had shown the way in the previous decade and paved the way for the senior farm organisation.
Mr Downey said that in each decade since its foundation the association faced big challenges. In the 1960s the leadership took the radical move of leading mass street protests and managed to make their voices heard.
The IFA leader said a series of urgent problems now faced the nation's farmers and their families and he directly challenged the EU Commissioner and the Agriculture Minister to help.
"Extreme price volatility, escalating input costs that bear no relation to product prices, excessive bureaucracy, the threat of damaging trade deals and the inequity in returns from the food supply chain between producers, processors and retailers must all be addressed," the IFA president told the 1,700-strong audience gathered in the Convention Centre in Dublin for the 60th anniversary celebration.
Mr Downey said the vision of Juan Greene, the IFA's first President, and his colleagues was to build a truly independent organisation, bringing together for the first time farmers in all sectors and from every part of the country. He said the original NFA's primary purpose was to develop agriculture and advance Irish farm families' living standards. "This remains our core mission," the IFA president said. The attendance saluted the five deceased presidents.