Outgoing president Thomas Duffy pictured ahead of making Macra's pre-Budget submission.

MACRA President’s tenure to end at May AGM

When Thomas Duffy hands over the reins of Macra he’s eager, for now at least, to focus solely on his dairy herd in Edenburt. The Ramor Macra man’s two year presidency officially comes to an end at the national AGM on May 15. It is quite fitting that the event should be held online, given the pandemic has shaped much of Thomas’s tenure.

Covid scuppered a number of demonstrations planned to “really get young farmers out there and engaged with some of the activities”, which he says was “certainly disappointing”.

Macra places huge emphasis on providing a social outlet in rural communities. Thomas and his team were determined to do everything possible in the face of restrictions to fill the covid-induced void.

“The resilience we’ve shown in the face of Covid, by continuing to have many online activities, is something that I’m particularly proud of,” he says. “Creating a secure and stable outlet for young people in rural Ireland would be major, major positive for me.”

He continues: “Through our competitions, for instance, and our young farmers’ virtual farm walks, we’ve been able to keep a lot of people very heavily engaged. We have had endless hours of Zoom meetings over the last while and really the volunteers in our organization have kept working at a pace that is absolutely astronomical.”

While acknowledging that Covid has exposed the technological divide between rural and urban Ireland - “We have been lobbying very strongly on speeding up of the roll out of the national rural broadband plan” - Thomas also contends: “It has also highlighted the higher quality, and standard, of living that people have been able to experience in rural Ireland.

“And it has shown people the local economy is even more important than any of us had considered it to ever be before. We know that small shops, outside of the essential services, have taken a massive hit in rural Ireland. But at the same time, there has been a huge uptake in terms of purchasing ‘local’ and really focusing on what is in people’s local areas,” he said adding he hopes this is a permanent lesson learned.

A crucial aspect of Macra’s function is to lobby for the interests of young farmers.

“In terms of securing funding for young agricultural college students - that was a key outcome and it was the result of very heavy lobbying by the organisation,” he says.

“We have also grown the amount of lobbying activity we have done by over 150% over the last two years.”

Is there any iron in the fire you wish you could have hit a bit more?

“A lot of my tenure has been focused on both directly on beef issues and trying to secure a sustainable income and trying to reform the industry into something which is more long-term viable for young farmers.

“In addition to that, it’s been climate. And climate has kind of taken a back seat for Covid-19. But we are seeing the importance of having youth voices and farmer voices around climate action now.”

Future

Asked whether his long-term plans included a move into politics, he briefest of laughs served as a prelude to his reply: “I have no plans beyond coming home to farm at the moment. We’ll see what the future brings.”

Has anyone approached you with possible offers?

“No, no, nothing, nothing like that. And at the moment, the focus will be on farming and maybe continuing in the farming community and farm representation.”

As Thomas steps down, fellow Ramor clubmate Luna Orofiamma will step up to the Northwest vice president role. He is confident Luna and president elect John Keane will do an “excellent job”.

“During their tenure, we would be looking at reopening all of our physical activities. There will be challenges around that: making sure everyone is safe, and everyone is included in all those activities. But they are more than capable of meeting those challenges.”

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