Frank Brady with "No Farmers No Food" emblazoned on his jacket addresses the crowd at the Hotel Kilmore.

Candidates urged to fight for farmers on emissions

Whoever wins the IFA regional chairman post will have to restore the confidence of a frustrated membership fearful for the future of the organisation, if Monday night’s election campaign was anything to go by.

John Curran and Frank Brady were vying for the votes at the event held in the Hotel Kilmore. Up for grabs is the post of regional chairman for Ulster/North Leinster.

With Covid on everyone’s minds, it attracted a decent crowd considering the circumstances.

John Curran during his opening address.

John Curran, an understated, Meath man outlined the alphagetti of schemes he participates in: BPS, ANC, BDGP, BEEP-S, GLAS etc.

“They (schemes) are essential to the viability to many family farms whether they’re dairy, beef, sheep, it doesn’t make any difference,” said the current Meath county chairman. “I’ll be fighting to keep all those schemes because if I can keep those schemes going I can keep my own farm going and at the same time I’ll keep many, many family farms going.”

He cautioned against those who make too many promises.

“If you can deliver on 10 things in your term you’ve done a great job,” he said, before outlining the essence of his platform which included: an increased payment in all suckler cow schemes and maintaining suckler herd numbers; no cull in the national dairy herd and protection of the nitrates derogation; increase payments for the sheep welfare scheme.

After the soft spoken Curran, it was the turn of Frank Brady. Wearing a red jacket and a loosened tie featuring pigs, he began his speech outlining his background in a similarly measured tone. However, when he hit on the environment a switch was flicked and the delivery ratcheted up to Davy Fitz in Ireland’s Fittest Family mode.

“Oh lord almighty, would you just look at what we have,” he began holding a placard aloft with stats printed on it.

“Cattle are down 5% from 30 years ago; cars are up 225%; air passengers are up 575%.

“Cows aren’t the bloody problem! It’s all of this but ye are being blamed for everything,” he said as more than a few appreciative hands applauded.

“My aim is to make sure everyone in this room gets a living from farming. CAP is now down at 37% of what it was. That is where we are going – we have to start getting margins for everything.

“Dairying is good – but everyone is saying isn’t it great dairy is at 40c – that’s the bloody price it should be from day one!”

He added of the climate crisis: “Instead of making us the enemies, we can sort the problem – we don’t cause it, we can solve it.”

Tone and style weren’t the only difference. More significantly, while John spoke of the importance of schemes in ensuring farming’s viability, Frank emphasised getting more from the supermarkets.

“We have to get margins – it’s all about margins from now on as far as I’m concerned.

“Margins is what it’s going to be about for the next four years for me. We need to get a profit and we need to be seen to get a workable profit and that we don’t always need to be seen with the begging bowl.”

The Davy Fitz sporting reference is apt as Frank has managed Monaghan minors football team to success.

“I’m a winner,” he insisted before showcasing his idea of having a red jacket branded on the back with the logo: “No farmers no food” - a riposte to the agri-centric focus on emissions.

When questions came from the floor they spoke of a largely frustrated membership.

Declan Fitzpatrick of Belturbet said he was “terribly concerned” about the future at branch level and surmised “long term, if the branches die, the organisation will be a lot weaker”.

Seamus Dolan from west Cavan is a member of the dairy committee for the last five years and claimed there was a “disconnect between the Bluebell office and the farmer on the ground”.

“We’ve had farmers with issues in Cavan and we go to try to sort them out and it’s an absolute waste of time.”

Seamus was backed up by chairperson Elizabeth Ormiston.

Seamus asked the candidates what they are going to do to change it, warning: “If the attitude doesn’t change, we are going to lose our members.”

Frank agreed with Seamus and said he would try to solve problems through political contacts if it wasn’t resolved by Bluebell.

John Curran said there were not enough county development officers in the Ulster North Leinster area.

“If I get elected I guarantee you and I promise you one thing – that is the first thing that’s going to be done – those three county development officers are going to be put in place, get feet on the ground, branches working and the thing up and running again.”

Seamus had also claimed there were a lot of “armchair farmers”.

Addressing this John Curran said the number of “armchair farmers” was because they couldn’t afford to sell or lease their entitlements.

“There’s too much clawback on it. They are only farming to hold onto their payment. There needs to be a entitlement bank set up or a national reserve so farmers who want to get out can sell their entitlements into that bank with little or no clawback and that would free up both entitlements and land for the young farmer.”

John Beglan of Mullahoran raised what he saw as a lack of democracy in IFA as a factor in the alleged disconnect between grassroots and Bluebell.

“Perhaps it’s because the ordinary farmer hasn’t been asked for his view,” he said and gave the example of the association’s stance on convergence.

“When has democracy in IFA gone down to the grassroots – that they had a vote on whether convergence was good or bad?”

The Mullahoran man added: “Any policy change should be given back to the members – that’s how we involve them.”

John Curran said the various county executives bring ideas to the national executive and then the suggestion can fall at board level, where the regional chairman is just one of a group.

“It boils down to one voice from a region, and unless he’s backed up he can’t get it over the line,” he explained.

Frank said that events like this election debate are democracy in action and vowed: “If I am on national council they won’t have as easy a ride as they had before because one thing about me is I’m vocal and I’m strong and I’ll fight for what I really believe in. And if you feel you are not being heard, then you’re not being heard and we’ll make sure you are being heard because if we lose ye, we have no organisation.”

A Ballyhaise branch member who has a poultry enterprise said his latest gas bill to heat his sheds included a €250 carbon levy. Biogas “is totally out of reach” for his enterprise he explained.

Despite taking such hits, he notes the farmers are being “unduly blamed” by climate activists - “It’s open season on the farmer”.

“Whoever, whether it be Frank or John who gets this job, they need to fight that fight, the IFA hasn’t shown their teeth – they are seen to be watery.”

His comments received the biggest applause of the night.

Frank said he couldn’t agree with him more.

“We’re being blamed for something we’re not causing,” he said adding: “If food waste was a country, it would be the third largest gas emitting country in the world after China and the US, and yet there’s no word about food waste. Because it’s too cheap, nobody appreciates it.”

He assured he would be vocal on this issue.

John said he would keep lobbying for the IFA to employ a climate expert.

“We need professional expertise to fight the climate change battle for IFA in the media – professional expertise, people who know what they are talking about and people know facts, people who can put it across in the national media.”

He shared the farmers frustration over the carbon tax, saying “there’s not a thing we can do about it”.