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Tom Murphy
Professional Agricultural
Contractors of Ireland

Show a united front

Looking at the election of the new leaders of the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA), two remarkable things happened.

Firstly, history was made as Alice Doyle became the first woman to be elected to the high office of IFA deputy president. Over the years I have had the pleasure of working with Alice on the Health and Safety Authority’s statutory committee, the Farm Safety Partnership Advisory Committee. Taking on a senior position in a large organisation is always a challenge but I know Alice will meet that challenge head on. With her experience in farming, she will be a voice for all farmers in the many negotiations she will be at the centre of. She will also bring a valuable female perspective, which is often overlooked in negotiations and policy making.

Francie Gorman, the new IFA president, stressed in his speech at the AGM that Irish farmers must develop and influence policy, particularly in the next CAP negotiations. Moreover, they should be rewarded for their positive contribution to the environment, biodiversity, and climate change. Some years ago, at a meeting in Brussels, I recall the words of then Commissioner Phil Hogan: “Farmers are not the problem, they are part of the solution.” This still holds true today. I would be the first to recognise the enormously difficult job and responsibility the president of the IFA carries in leading an organisation with more than 70,000 members and far be it from me to offer advice. However, I have never been backwards in coming forward and speaking my mind. So, my main objectives would be to focus on two main issues. One, to secure a fair farmgate price for all farmers, including small farmers, and if that means loading the subsidy for small-acreage farmers, so be it. The requirement to negotiate on so many fronts can bog you down causing you to take your eyes off other issues, particularly the long-term survival of Irish small-acreage farms.

I recommend the IFA leadership study a report I came across recently when doing some research. The impact of EU trade agreements on the agricultural sector produced in December 2016. It deals with the future of agriculture in Europe, in particular small-acreage farming. It’s a long report, but for me it set the building blocks for CAP reform over recent years and into the future. Future policy is going to favour larger farms at the expense of small farming, to quote one paragraph: ‘Due to structural change and technological progress in the agricultural sector, agricultural production in the EU takes place on fewer, larger and more capital-intensive farms. The total number of farms in the EU has thus dropped by 26 per cent from 2005 to 2013, and the consolidation process is expected to continue. Declining farm numbers have also led to larger farms and an increase in output per farm as well as a drop in employment in the agricultural sector.’

Farmers and agricultural contractors have every reason to be concerned for their future, particularly contractors who commit themselves to considerable financial investment to provide a service to farmers.

President Francie and Deputy Alice have a difficult task ahead of them and I hope that all farmers and contractors will rally around and show a united front. I say this because at the top of this article I said two remarkable things happened in the election of the IFA leadership. The second is how the country was split in the voting for the president you could almost draw a line across from Clare, Tipperary Waterford and all counties below voted for Martin Stapleton and all counties above voted for Francie Gorman. Effectively, the country was split in half. And the voting for the deputy president indicated a clear divide between the west and east of the country. On behalf of PAC Ireland, I wish them both well on their road ahead. 

And, just one last thought. Who better to approach as an advisor to the IFA, than someone who has extensive inside knowledge of what the future policies for European agriculture are and the effect they will have on Irish agriculture. That someone, in my view, is Phil Hogan. No matter what your politics, he would be worth his weight in gold and if he accepted the offer, he’d frighten the bejaysus out of Brussels.