Transparent approach the key on levies - survey
THE findings of the Farming Independent survey carried out at the National Ploughing Championships makes for interesting reading.
There is much to consider in the standout findings. The fact that 65pc of all farmers and 67pc of full-time farmers believe that the collection of membership levies for the farm organisations by dairy and meat processors restricts the independence of the farm bodies is hardly surprising.
It is an issue that has often been raised over the last year and is a complaint that invariably surfaces during times of tension between processors and farmers.
In statements to the Farming Independent, both the IFA and ICMSA defended the levy collection system - and insisted the policy was essential to the funding of the organisations and the delivery of services to their members.
Indeed, there is an acceptance among farmers themselves that the levies are a funding source that would be difficult to replace. This was reflected by close to 39pc of farmers saying the policy of processors collecting levies should be maintained.
However, with a majority of full-time farmers (54pc) wanting the practice discontinued, the farm organisations will have to address the issue.
How can this be done without a loss of income?
One option is greater transparency on how all funds are spent. This includes being totally open on salaries and bonuses paid to every employee and on the expenses paid to both staff and elected officers.
The levies are a vital source of income for the farm organisations - something elected officers from the ICMSA and IFA were at pains to point out at the Ploughing.
Indeed, a senior source in the IFA said the full range of levies across all activities was worth between €4m and €4.5m a year to the organisation. However, there is clearly a perception among farmers - particularly full-time farmers - that the manner in which the levies are collected limits the freedom of action of the farm bodies. The farm bodies need to do more to counter this view.
Meanwhile, the survey findings suggest Minister Coveney is also in need of some good PR. The minister's handling of the beef crisis came in for heavy criticism from farmers, with 63.5pc labelling his performance as 'fairly poor' or 'very poor'. Despite the minister's protestations that he has no control on the price producers receive for livestock, a more hands-on approach is being sought by farmers.
Worryingly, in a week when the death toll on farms reached 23 for the year, the survey shows a clear link between how busy farmers are and the likelihood of farm accidents. While 19pc of those surveyed said they had been hospitalised as a result of a farm accident, this rose to 26.5pc for dairy farmers and 26pc for those with holdings of over 200ac.
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