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Green shoots

What do farmers want?

To be like Scotland, for starters.

THE BOSS OF the Irish Farmers Association has been setting out his priorities for the sector at the group’s big annual get-together this afternoon.

Some 120 delegates from all over the country have been arriving since early this morning ahead of the group’s AGM, held this year as always in the heart of industrialised West Dublin — at the Irish Farm Centre, in Bluebell.

So what do farmers want this year?

As always, a boost in profitability.

Eddie Downey, the IFA President, called for a redoubling of efforts to market the country’s produce abroad as he delivered his keynote speech to a packed conference room.

He’s not just calling for it, in fact. It’s something the IFA “is demanding”.

The Government-backed branding strategy by Bord Bia and the Irish Dairy Board would be aimed at delivering a “price premium for Irish produce, like the premium achieved by producers of Scotch beef and lamb”.

Scotland’s meat promotions body reported an increase in red meat consumption late last year, coupled with a surge in public awareness of local produce, following a number of award-winning marketing campaigns (see below).

Speaking to reporters afterwards, Downey said:

“What we’d be looking at is to get a proper branded Irish product on the supermarket shelves out there, equivalent to Kerrygold, that would carry our products.

We’ve invested very heavily as farmers and the industry in producing the quality product that we have. We consider ourselves to be the best in the world at what we do, with all the traceability and safety standards, so now it’s time to take advantage of that with a proper brand.

The Irish Dairy Board set up ‘Kerrygold’ back in 1961 to centralise the overseas marketing of butter — and in the last half century the brand has become synonymous with Irish dairy products .

Now that Ireland has been granted full access for its beef in the US market, a new branding strategy needs to be introduced, Downey said.

We need to build on what we have in the Kerrygold brand. That quality and that brand. Now that we’re moving into the American market we’ll be looking at niche products there, and niche markets going on there. We’ve got to have a proper solid Irish brand.

CybercomTest / YouTube

Elsewhere, the group is repeating its call for a GSOC-like watchdog body for the supermarket sector. A new ‘Supermarkets Ombudsman’ would help ensure fair play when it comes to pricing, Downey said.

It’s something successive IFA Presidents have called for. So what are the chances of progress this year?

The absolute necessity for it is the key thing now. We’ve seen the growth over the years of the multiples, getting stronger and stronger. You need a control mechanism on them to make sure they don’t abuse producers along the way.

Stronger regulation of retailers both at home and at EU level is needed, including a ban on below-cost selling, the IFA boss said.

Downey’s speech prioritised access to the European Commission’s GLAS scheme — a hot topic in recent months. Last week, a new farmers’ organisation was set up to campaign on the issue, after announcing a split with the IFA.

Elsewhere, New Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan has made a “positive start” since taking over, he said — and he insisted the recent campaign targeting meat factories had delivered for beef farmers.

Farm fatalities

On the subject of safety, Downey urged farmers to make the issue a top priority in 2015, following a “horrific” record over the past year.

30 people died on the country’s farms last year, including three children under the age of 16 and nine people over 65 — the worst figure in a quarter of a century.

The IFA needed to show leadership on the issue, he told delegates “and commit to making our family farms a safer place”.

Read: Heart-breaking new video shows the devastating effect of farm deaths

Read: Man (40) killed in farming accident in Cork

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