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James Healy, is well into the second year of his two-year
tenure as president of Macra na Feirme. The reputation
of the organisation has been enhanced during his term
by the forceful manner in which Macra has put forward
its policies for improving the position of young farmers
in Irish agriculture. While James agrees that some of the
more radical proposals may have irritated the other farm
organisations, he reckons it has been well worthwhile:
"There are very few occasions now when Commission
fi gures discuss the upcoming reform of the CAP without
reference to our young farmer policies. That includes
Commissioner Hogan and members of DG Agri. That
indicates the degree to which we have embedded young
farmer issues in the thinking of agriculture policy
A pan-European approach
One of the most important vehicles that Macra has used
to its advantage in ensuring its policies get traction has
been though the organisation's renewed involvement in
CEJA, the European Young Farmers Committee. With
fi nancial support from IFAC, the farm accounts co-op,
Macra has developed huge infl uence amongst Europe's
young farmers. Alan Jagoe, a former Macra president,
has been a president of CEJA and another former Macra
president, Sean Finan, is currently a vice-president of the
European body. That has opened doors that would not
otherwise be ajar as James Healy explains: "That European
voice gives us an opportunity to get Macra's policies
implemented in a pan-European context. It also shows
the universality of the challenge facing young people
establishing in farming."
Shifting the age imbalance
For the fi rst time in a generation, the numerical balance of
young farmers compared to their older counterparts has
improved, says James Healy: "There is still a long way to
go to rejuvenate Irish and European agriculture, though.
There are less farmers now over the age of 80 compared to
those under the age of 35. Up until last year that fi gure was
reversed. The actions we proposed in the last CAP reform
have defi nitely helped to improve the age profi le. It is a
very slow process, whether it involves the implementation
of the Young Farmer Top-up or the National Reserve and
there needs to be an acceleration of the specifi c supports
for young farmers in the next CAP."
Further actions needed
The Macra president outlines Macra's priorities: "We
have to continue to seek improvements and increases in
the Young Farmer Top-up. That's a proposal which was
included the outline CAP Reform measures published by
the Commission last year. One option that is likely to be a
political hotcake is the defi nition of the active farmer. We
believe that the current defi nition is not adequate. There
needs to be increased recognition of farmers who develop
their technical farming skills and engage in business
planning. We know that young farmers are very positive
in taking up new opportunities to improve themselves
and their farms. All of that needs to be recognised in the
defi nition of active farming. The person who is doing the
work should be the one getting the fi nancial support. We
have drifted away from that and while a realignment may
upset some people it has to happen."
Improving land mobility
In the ongoing quest to get land into the hands of young
farmers, an issue that has been a central tenet of Macra
for many decades, James Healy points to the progress that
has been made through the organisation's development
of a Land Mobility Service: "This is the fi fth year of that
service. The number of farm partnerships developed
has grown exponentially. Upwards of 400 partnerships
were set up in the fi rst three years under the auspices
Matt O'Kee e
talks to Macra
President James Healy about the
need for a radical approach to get
the voices of young famers heard.
The radical
side of
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