NEW Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) president Joe Healy, in his inaugural address to the organisation’s 61st AGM, declared that the single biggest challenge facing Irish agriculture is farm income.
Speaking at the Irish Farm Centre in Dublin, he pledged that tackling the farm income crisis will be his number one priority. He said: ‘Fifty years after the Farmers’ Rights Campaign, IFA still has a really important job to do farmers. I want to thank farmers for their support and I am asking for their continued strong support of IFA.’
The IFA president said: ‘Farm Incomes will be top of my agenda when I meet the Minister for Agriculture. Politicians need to get serious and recognise that there is a real income crisis on Irish farms. I want to see a dedicated minister with sole responsibility for Agriculture and Food in the new government.’
Mr Healy also pledged to bring trust, transparency and credibility to the heart of IFA and to strengthen governance and transparency.
The Athenry farmer added that 2016 is proving to be an extremely difficult year and the reality is farm incomes are too low and unsustainable. He identified the immediate issues as product prices, retail regulation, input costs (with particular emphasis on IFA’s campaign on fertiliser) and the Mercosur trade deal.
‘It is totally unacceptable,’ he said, ‘that farmers, who do most of the work in producing high-quality food, are receiving a price below the cost of production,’ adding that there is unrelenting downward pressure by powerful retailers and processors on farm prices.
Joe Healy said there is an urgent need for a rebalancing of power in the food supply chain: ‘We will continue to push for stronger legislation to include an independent ombudsman, and a ban on below-cost selling’.
On inputs, he said that IFA’s investigations clearly show a failure of competition in the European fertiliser market. The EU Commission must immediately abolish duties and tariffs on fertiliser imports, which will deliver between €50m and €70m in savings for Irish farmers.
The cost of bank borrowing remains unacceptably high. Farmers need access to lower interest rates as they are paying an average of 2% more that our European counterparts. IFA will continue to provide assistance for farmers in financial difficulty.
Mr Healy warned also that the outcome of the UK referendum on EU membership will have far reaching consequences for Ireland and our agri-food sector. Our exports to the UK totalled €4.4bn in 2015.
A UK exit could see the return of tariffs, quotas and border controls. IFA has a very clear position on BREXIT: Irish agriculture is stronger with the UK staying in the EU.
The drive by the EU Commission on TTIP and Mercosur must be halted. Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom cannot ignore the opposition from 20 EU Agriculture Ministers to her draft Mercosur trade offer.