Farm Ireland

Sunday 17 December 2017

Viewpoint: There's nothing 'sensational' about asking hard questions

Aurivo CEO Aaron Forde
Aurivo CEO Aaron Forde
Darragh McCullough

Darragh McCullough

There were two interesting soundbites on the radio waves over the weekend.

The first was Ornua chairman Aaron Forde's claim on local radio that the revelations about pay in the company last week were "sensationalised".

When asked in an interview on Ocean FM about the €9m shared by nine top Ornua executives over the last two years, Mr Forde said that "it is not the Wild West, people don't have their hand in the till taking this money".

He stressed that there was nothing for farmers to be concerned about because there was good governance within the organisation. He also referred to the fact that Ornua was such a large organisation - with 3,000 employees operating in 110 different markets around the world.

The next morning, former IFA president Eddie Downey was on the national airwaves defending his record in office.

"I'm very proud of my time in it," he said of his two years at the helm of the organisation.

He added that he felt obliged to resign for the good of the IFA, but added that "maybe a few more should've taken my lead".

But even more interesting was Mr Downey's assertion that he lost money during his time as president, despite payments totalling nearly €200,000 per year while he was in office.

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"I lost money - you come and run my farm. I know that sounds arrogant, but it's not," he told Damien O'Reilly on RTE's Countrywide programme. The Meath poultry, beef and tillage farmer maintained that it took two to three people to make up for his absence on the farm.

"We've two people employed on the farm now. We had five people employed this time last year," he said.

It all seems a far cry from the €26,000 a year that the IFA quote as the average farm income.

But maybe it's a reality check that farmers need. The best people in any business don't come cheap, and there's no doubt that Mr Downey was good at what he did.

Aurivo's Aaron Forde made the same point about attracting world-class talent to a multinational company like Ornua. Top executives in Irish agri-business want to benchmark themselves against the best in the business. As their businesses grow abroad, this is increasingly against the likes of long-established global entities such as Kerry and Glanbia.

But the key difference in those firms is that all the top brass' pay is laid out in the annual reports. Kerry CEO Stan McCarthy's $4.6m (over €4m) pay package in 2015 might be eye-watering, but at least it's there for all to see.

If the top people employed by farmers through their co-ops are worth top dollar, what is there to hide? Assurances that 'everything's alright lads - trust us' just doesn't cut ice anymore. Just ask Eddie Downey.

Indo Farming