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The three candidates agree there is a need to achieve a
common strategy amongst the various beef representative
groups to deliver improved prices and incomes for cattle
farmers. Angus Woods believes that the timing of the
protests was wrong and have led to an overhang of fi t
cattle waiting to be slaughtered: "At the time there was no
market indication that a price increase could be achieved
in the short term and that's why we went down the EU
compensatory route." Tim Cullinan was supportive of the
protests: "The protesters are our members and there was
a vacuum creates by IFA inaction. I supported them at the
factory gates." John Coughlan insists that united approach
is the only successful strategy for farmers.
Candidate comments
Corkman John Coughlan describes himself as a "hands-
on farmer who would bring leadership, experience and
an ability to bring people with me" to the job of IFA
president. These are certainly qualities he will need
should he succeed in his quest. As a "mixed farmer" from
Wicklow, Angus Woods insists that he "is totally aware
of the income pressures facing farmers. I will bring a new
voice, new energy and huge skills and contacts to the role
of IFA president". The Tipperary-based candidate Tim
Cullinan believes that he brings a reputation "of delivering
for farmers with experience of dealing and negotiating
with retailers and processors".
A radical approach
All three express the desire to bring a certain degree of
radicalism to the IFA. Tim Cullinan says he will engage
in restructuring the organisation: "my aim is to bring IFA
into the future over the next four years.
There are issues on the ground that need to be dealt with
and I can bring people together." He professes to have
a plan on the table to restructure the IFA's committee
structure. Tim, with his background in representing
pig farmers as chairman of the IFA Pig Committee, also
believes he can positively impact on farmgate prices: "The
work we did in the pig sector in developing full traceability
has pressurised retailers to stock Irish pork. The beef
industry needs to move on. It has not changed for many
years. Full DNA traceability for beef would help to protect
our home market from imports. On the dairy side we need
to add value to our produce and insist that the full worth
of our dairy products is returned to the producer."
Angus Woods is currently chairman of the IFA's Livestock
Committee. He has been in the fi ring line because of low
beef prices of recent months: "We have been successful
in securing extra funding from the EU. The 100 million
BEAM initiative is an example of successful IFA lobbying.
Transparency is a key issue. Everyone knows the farmers
income fi gures but we don't know what the processor or
retailer gets out of the business. That has to change if we
are to build trust in the beef sector. In Europe we need
to protect the market for internal beef producers. Fifteen
percent of the prime cuts on sale in EU supermarkets
and restaurants are from outside of Europe. That's not
John Coughlan, the IFA's current Munster Chairman, is
adamant that the cheap food policy in the EU has to be
challenged: "That has to change. Everyone else is getting
a fair share of the end price while farmers are relying
entirely on EU payments while all the time having to
achieve higher production standards. In addition, we
cannot be expected to compete with imports that are
produced at a lower standard than expected from Irish
and European farmers."
New team with the same challenges
Joe Healy has been very careful not to become involved
in the IFA election: "Whoever is elected, the work has
to go on. The challenges continue from year to year. The
next team will have to take on those challenges. It's a lot
bigger than any one person. The ongoing issues include
climate, Brexit, pending trade deals and, ultimately, farm
incomes remain the central issue for IFA. Any measure
of success must be based on delivery and membership.
IFA membership has increased to more than seventy-two
thousand members over the past four years. Against the
backdrop of climate change, housing needs and health
spending, there has been an extra 600 million put into
farming over and above schemes that were already in
place. IFA was responsible for delivering on that increased
fi nancial support to our farmers."
Th shrewd Galway farmer refused to be drawn on life after
his IFA presidential term: "I will be back on the farm in
time for the calving season. That's as far ahead as I am
looking." The mention of a General Election next year
was met with a political response: "You never say never
to anything because you never know what's around the
corner but right now I'm looking forward to the challenge
of farming next February."