Addressing the 60th Annual General Meeting of the Irish Farmers Association in Dublin today (Tues), IFA President Eddie Downey said his central message to politicians in Dublin and Brussels is that farm profitability must be the top priority, if the viability of hard working and productive family farms is to be protected. Eddie Downey set down a 10-point plan of action that is needed.
“IFA has put a comprehensive 30-page submission to Government on Agri-Strategy 2025 and, at its core is the need to improve farm profitability. Over the past five years, farmers have delivered for the economy through increased output, jobs and export earnings. Our high-quality farm produce has lifted food exports, which are up by 45% since 2009 to €10.5bn. Farm output has driven food exports, and contributed to economic recovery, but farmers are not seeing the benefits in their pockets.”
Eddie Downey said, “Product prices have risen, but by nowhere near enough to offset the rise in input costs and the cuts to Direct Payments in particular, while the constant downward pressure by retailers on our returns is impacting hard”.
He said farmers are operating in an increasingly globalised environment, with exposure to severe volatility in prices, inputs and extreme weather events – all of which present a major challenge to the viability of family farms and the security of the world’s food supply.
The IFA President said restoring farm profitability requires action by politicians in both Dublin and Brussels and by the industry to face up to the hard issues. That means:
• Immediate implementation of the new farm schemes, with the early opening of GLAS, all applicants accepted and a substantial payment made in 2015;
• Delivery on the Government’s 46% co-financing commitment, with funding of €550m per year for the Rural Development schemes, including ANCs, GLAS, TAMS, Beef Genomics and Knowledge Transfer, between now and 2020;
• a Government marketing and branding strategy, through Bord Bia and the Irish Dairy Board, that delivers a price premium for Irish produce, like the premium achieved by producers of Scotch beef and lamb;
• Stronger regulation of retailers both at home and at EU level, to give a fairer share out of the consumer price. This must include a ban on below-cost selling, which has been a scourge for our potato and vegetable sector, and a Supermarkets’ Ombudsman to enforce fair play;
• With the economy picking up, IFA is also laying down a marker that the unfair and unjustifiable cuts to farmers in Disadvantaged Areas must be reversed;
• Our State agencies, and Teagasc in particular, must do more to assist farmers and help build on-farm efficiency;
• Co-ops and merchants must work much harder to improve processing efficiency and cut the costs of inputs, while our banks must provide access to credit at keener interest rates;
• Real solutions are required to deal with income volatility and a new Charter of Farmers Rights that reduces costly and stressful administration;
• Innovative taxation measures to support investment, farm transfers, restructuring and new entrants must be delivered. In particular, IFA’s Phased Transfer Partnership model, which addresses the challenge of generating two incomes from one family farm, must be introduced;
• In Europe, the EU Commission must protect agriculture from damaging trade deals and move to break up the cartel structure, which is keeping fertiliser prices excessively high.
Mr Downey told members attending the AGM that farm profitability comes down to family farms getting a fair price for their product. “There has to be recognition for what farmers have done, including an investment of over €7bn in the last 10 years in upgrading farms; over 50,000 farmers are in Quality Assurance schemes; our 18,000 dairy farmers are engaged in the Dairy Sustainability Programme; farmers have embraced Discussion Groups and we want these available in all sectors; and farmers are engaging in the IFA-led Smart Farming initiative to improve returns through better resource management.”
Eddie Downey said, “Farmers are delivering top quality product, to the highest standards in the world, but we must be properly rewarded for it”.
The IFA President said that the organisation was in great shape and he thanked the voluntary officer and professional staff for their hard work, activity and delivery on so many issues last year. He said IFA was looking forward to its next 60 years and that the Association was well equipped to deal with the many challenges ahead.