WATERFORD IFA recently celebrated its 60th anniversary with a special banquet at Lawlor’s Hotel, Dungarvan.
The Irish Farmers’ Association has been a cornerstone of life in rural Ireland in communities throughout the country since its formation – none more so than here in Waterford.
Members of Waterford’s IFA branches have been involved in all of the major national events which have been staged by the organisation throughout the past 60 years.
Waterford IFA Chairman John Fitzgerald from Ross, Kilmeaden says that farmers in Waterford have contributed significantly to the organisation at a national level.
“Waterford farmers have never been slow to air their grievances or to lobby for change,” he said.
“In Waterford, there is a strong history of representation at national level and we have always had very strong advocates.”
While a National President hasn’t come from Waterford (yet), a number of people from the county have held senior positions within the organisation including Kevin Kiersey from Kilmacthomas and Michael Murphy from West Waterford who both held the position of IFA National Dairy Committee Chairman.
Members of the IFA can avail of a significant range of supports.
For example, IFA branches regularly host seminars and information sessions on a variety of different topics such as taxation, legal issues and combating rural crime.
The IFA is also very active in promoting the importance of farm safety, a topic which is particularly relevant as 2014 was a horrific year in terms of farm accidents.
Mental health is another issue which the IFA is keen to address.
With farming increasingly becoming a ‘one man’ job, some farmers can go an entire day without seeing anyone else.
The IFA has a close association with Pieta House, and a special IFA Pieta House Phone Line has been established.
Additionally, the IFA provides an important social network for farmers who can meet like-minded people through attending various events.
In recent weeks, community meetings have been taking place around the county in which the IFA has been assisting with the establishment of a text alert system.
Nationally, the IFA has appointed a rural crime prevention executive to support the development of an IFA crime prevention policy and to aid the rollout of Theft Stop, a joint initiative with An Garda Síochána.
Colin Connolly, a former member of An Garda Síochána, with experience in crime investigation and crime prevention techniques, will work closely with the Gardaí on the development of a range of crime prevention initiatives, including the national rollout of Theft Stop.
In general, farming is enjoying a significant resurgence in Ireland and the outlook for the future is very positive according to John Fitzgerald.
“During the Celtic Tiger era, there was no real incentive to enter farming. A lot of those who were coming out of school were going straight towards trades as there was instant employment. Farming wasn’t seen as an attractive industry by many people,” said John.
He now believes there are more incentives and welcomes recent budget announcements including the taxation measure to encourage family farm transfer and the changes in relation to capital acquisition tax.
The removal of milk quotas earlier this year was a particularly positive move.
On April 1st, the country’s 18,000 dairy farmers woke up to a new dawn following the abolition of milk quotas at midnight.
This marked the first time in 31 years that farmers have not had a restriction placed on how much milk they can supply.
Milk supply is expected to increase by 50 per cent by 2020, and the dairy herd to increase by about 300,000 cows.
It has also been estimated that at least 10,000 jobs could be generated on farm and in businesses working with farmers.
“In the long-term, the prospects are very good for dairy farmers,” said John.
“We have some of the best dairy farmers in the country here in County Waterford and that has been proven. We are one of the most innovative counties in the country. We seem to jump at opportunities and we’re always leading in terms of food production.”
During his speech at the Waterford IFA 60th Anniversary Banquet, IFA President Eddie Downey spoke of the many opportunities available in the Chinese market.
“They trust Irish food and our traceability and quality are unquestionable,” said John.
“We produce high quality, healthy food which is hormone free. Our top chefs are also keen to promote Irish food and its special quality, taste and flavour.”
Positive signs for the industry are also evident with the increased interest in obtaining places at agricultural colleges.
John believes the importance of education must be highlighted to young farmers and those considering a future in the industry.
“My advice for young farmers would be to get as much education as possible,” he explained.
“Also, travel is extremely important. They should see another part of the world such as New Zealand or Australia even just for three months. This will give them confidence and they will come back with an appreciation for what we can do here in Ireland.”
Having achieved so much in the past 60 years, the IFA is sure to remain an important part of life in rural Ireland for many more years to come.