Addressing the 62nd Annual General Meeting of the Irish Farmers’ Association in Dublin today, IFA President Joe Healy said the biggest threat to Irish farming in half a century is the impact of the Brexit negotiations on farm incomes.
In 2017, Joe Healy said IFA will also be focussed on the review of the ANC and the opening of the CAP post-2020 negotiations, together with commodity prices and profitability in all sectors.
The IFA President also welcomed Damian McDonald, who takes over as Director General of the IFA at the close of today’s AGM from Acting General Secretary Bryan Barry. Joe Healy said his appointment is part of the ongoing renewal of IFA.
Joe Healy said with 40% of our food exports going to the UK, no other member state and no other sector are as exposed in these negotiations. “Agriculture and food cannot become a battleground between Brussels and London. There are too many farm livelihoods and jobs at stake. Politics cannot be allowed override our fundamental economic interests.”
He said farmers expect the Taoiseach and the Irish Government to use the strong relationship they have with both EU and UK leaders to influence a constructive approach to these difficult negotiations. “In Brussels, the Commissioner for Agriculture, Phil Hogan, must make the retention of free trade in agriculture and food products between the EU and UK a priority.”
The IFA President stressed that politicians in Dublin and Brussels cannot ignore the ongoing impact of the sterling devaluation, and direct aid for the farmers and sectors affected must be on the agenda.
“Farmers have taken most of the pain resulting from the weakness of sterling. Beef farmers took a hit of €150m last year from this alone and mushroom growers saw their margins wiped out. These losses are a direct result of a political decision outside farmers’ control and cannot be tolerated.”
Joe Healy also warned politicians against any reduction in the CAP budget as a result of Brexit, saying if EU solidarity means anything, then the budget shortfall must be made good so that farmers are not hit with CAP cuts when the UK leaves.
Farm Incomes & Other Priorities
The IFA President said he had identified farm incomes and prices as his key priority when he was elected last April and that focus remains for 2017. He said co-ops must deliver a substantial price increase and reach at least 33 cent per litre ahead of the Spring peak. With cattle supplies forecast to increase by 100,000 head, Minister Creed must prioritise a strong live export trade.
IFA’s campaign on the ANC review is up and running. Our priorities for this vital income support for farmers are:
- Protection of all areas currently designated,
- Reversal of cuts and restoration of funding to 2008 levels, and
- Payment rates that reflect the natural handicap
IFA will be escalating our campaign through intensive lobbying of TDs and Senators in the coming months.
With the opening of discussions on the next CAP, Joe Healy said the CAP post-2020 must work for Irish farmers. At the heart of the IFA campaign will be a strong CAP budget, with direct payments supporting active farmers, and a well-funded Rural Development Programme.
Following another very difficult year for grain growers, IFA has made a strong case for an aid package for tillage growers who suffered severe weather losses last harvest. Joe Healy called on Minister Creed to immediately make available funding of €4m for these farmers as there is no excuse for any further delay on this decision.
Joe Healy said he had a strong message for both the banks and agencies dealing with distressed loans. We will not tolerate the ‘vulture fund approach’ of stripping assets, with no regard for the family farm.
Joe Healy said substantial progress has been made on the renewal of IFA. Under the chairmanship of Teddy Cashman, the Lucey Implementation Committee identified improvements covering the key issues of governance, transparency and IFA Income and Financing.
Joe Healy said he was delighted to introduce the new Director General, Damian McDonald who brings with him a strong reputation for successful management of organisations, both with Horse Sport Ireland and, previously, with Macra na Feirme. He has also worked with IFA, and has a great knowledge of the issues facing farming in Ireland today. He wished Damian McDonald well and assured him of Council’s full support as he takes on this challenging role.
Concluding his address, Joe Healy said farmers need a strong IFA to fight for viable farm incomes. We achieved a lot for farmers in 2016. Together we can tackle the challenges of 2017 head on and deliver real results for farmers.