AS Sean Clarke prepares to leave his post as Cork’s IFA regional executive he recalls the many highs and the few lows of a 31-year career at the forefront of farming right across the county.
Sean, who is originally from Co Monaghan, is to retire from his position with the IFA later this month, but is extremely confident that there is a bright future for farming across every sector in Co Cork.
‘I started with the IFA in Meath and then, back in 1990, I came to Cork and – let me say – if you were going to do my job anywhere in the country, there is no better place than Cork,’ Sean said.
With three IFA county executives to work with, Sean soon found that life was never going to be dull as he took up his position at the IFA’s regional headquarters on the Curraheen Road.
‘There are three county executives for Cork and this has worked really well and has given the farmers of the county additional representation at national level,’ Sean said.
‘With 945 IFA branches nationally and 106 of those are in Cork, the county has the most diverse range of agriculture across the island, so it makes sense that there should be more than one county executive representing the farmers.’
Sean has witnessed a huge change when it comes to farming practices since he first took his role at the IFA. ‘When I stated with the IFA in Co Meath there were no computers in the office and not even a fax machine, you had a phone on your desk and that was it,’ Sean said.
‘And, from the farming end of it, the pace of life was a lot slower. Now, with no milk quotas, there is a big drive on expansion, especially with the younger farmers. Of course, with expansion comes additional work.’
‘Farmers are now much busier but they are time-poor. There is serious time pressure on farmers and it is this change of pace that has been the biggest change since I started.’
For Sean, the importance of technology for farmers today is also a factor that has changed the way agriculture is conducted, bringing with it more regulations and bureaucracy.
‘We’ve got more and more regulations and red tape being added year-on-year just to draw down payments under the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and I know that this is something that really annoys farmers.
It seems to be never-ending and, in the next CAP, we will see a lot more environmental measures linked in with payments.’
Over the years Sean has been involved in many IFA campaigns promoting better supports and returns for farmers. ‘It is wonderful to be part of a campaign on whatever issue it is and to see the might of the association getting behind it,’ Sean said.
‘It was great to see the amount of things that the IFA has achieved for farmers down through the years because of the well thought-out, well-researched policies that the association worked for.’
And, in West Cork, Sean fondly remember the dedication and commitment to improving the life of farmers by the IFA members here.
‘Whatever was going on, be it a protest in Dublin or a meeting in Skibbereen, I have worked with fantastic people who are 100% committed and are genuinely interested in improving the lot of their fellow farmers,’ Sean said.
‘When the call went out for support, there was no place better than West Cork. I feel very lucky to have worked within this county.’
However, for Sean the recent divisions within the farming community has been a low point of his time with IFA Cork. ‘Anything that splinters and divides the farmers’ voice is not good,’ Sean said.
‘And we’ve seen organisations have popped up here and there along the way and, at the end of the day, the political system likes to see that, because it divides the farmers’ voice.
‘If you want to succeed, you must go in with a united voice.’
While Sean admits that he still supports the blue and white of Monaghan, he said he would not have missed his time with the IFA in Cork.
‘I want to thank all the members for their support, dedication and co-operation over the last 31 years, there is a strong future for farming in this county and that is thanks to all the farmers that are the backbone of the IFA.’
• Farm Safety Week takes place from July 20th to 24th