Farm Ireland

Monday 23 April 2018

Viewpoint: IFA can't afford to exclude 'part-time' farmers from top table

The IFA Farm Centre in Bluebell, Dublin.
The IFA Farm Centre in Bluebell, Dublin.
Darragh McCullough

Darragh McCullough

Should only full-time farmers be eligible to represent IFA at the highest levels?

This question has suddenly become a hot topic, not least in the southwest where Limerick-man Donal O'Brien is referring the issue to the IFA rules and privileges committee for investigation.

He was "deeply hurt" at allegations that he is not a full-time farmer due to the directorship that he holds of a local construction company.

"I am a director of a construction company, Kildimo Development from which I do not receive a salary," he stated at a Limerick executive meeting last week.

At the same meeting a number of speakers called for a complete review of the IFA rule that prevents part-timers from holding a senior office in the organisation.

They have a point. The IFA depends heavily on its 80,000 members for both members' fees and clout at the negotiating table, but the reality is that the vast majority of these are part-time.

Exactly how many full-time farmers still exist in Ireland is a hard figure to pin down.

My best estimate is that there is no more than 17,000 full-time dairy farmers. The number of full-time sheep, beef and tillage men is probably less than 12,000. Factor in another 1,000 pig, poultry and veg producers, and you've got the vast majority of full-time farmers covered - in just 30,000 farms.

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Often the most efficient operators look beyond the farm-gate to bolster their earnings. Anything from servicing boilers to investing in shares and building sheds - there is no end to what farmers can turn their hands to.

So does rule 75b in the IFA's constitution make sense? It states: "A candidate for the office of president, deputy president or regional chairman shall be a full-time farmer by occupation."

It's actually a little woolly if you think about it. What constitutes a full-time occupation? If you asked a teacher that it might be 35 hours a week for nine months of the year. If somebody works a two or three-day week as a doctor or vet, but spends the rest of their time farming, are they really full-time anything?

The debate has big implications for part-timers that make up the majority of the membership. If they are excluded from leadership positions in the most important positions in the organisation, how can they be sure that their interests are being properly represented?

It also runs parallel to a debate on whether the IFA is really able to accommodate the concerns of the part-timers alongside those of the full-time farmer.

The last CAP reform was evidence that the lobby group wasn't open to debate on the issue. But if they want to maintain membership numbers, the IFA will need to ensure that part-time farmers are part of the decision- making process at the top table.

Indo Farming