Women in farmer leadership positions: North Cork IFA leads the way

by Denis Lehane

North Cork chairperson Anne Baker says IFA will have a woman president in the not too distant future

It seems very appropriate in a way that, in the week I meet Anne Baker, the new IFA North Cork chairperson, the Spice Girls announce their reunion.

The pop group who pushed girl-power back in the day are making a return.

While at the IFA, girl-power is on the move also.

As a result of recent elections within the organisation, three women have been appointed to county chair positions in Munster.

While Anne Baker takes over the role in North Cork, Erica O’Keefe has been elected chairperson in Tipperary South, and Imelda Walsh has been elected in Tipperary North.

I caught up with Anne Baker at Corrin Mart recently, to talk to her about the IFA, her plans and ambitions as she takes up her new role, and also to find out more about her beef farming enterprise back on the home farm in Mitchelstown.

We began with the IFA.

“I’ve always had an interest in farming and farming matters,” Anne explains.

“I was involved with Macra to begin with, I was secretary of my local branch in Mitchelstown.

“And then subsequently I went on to become a member of the Mitchelstown branch of the IFA.”

Outgoing North Cork IFA chairman Billy Cotter, congratulating Anne Baker on her election to the position at the North Cork IFA AGM which was held recently in Corrin Mart, Fermoy.

Her next role within IFA was be as chairperson of the farm family committee, a role she clearly took to her heart.

Farm safety, Anne explains, was a big concern within the farm family committee.

Not surprising really, when farming is regularly cited as being Ireland’s ‘most dangerous occupation’.

Mental health issues and concerns about rural isolation were also highlighted during her time chairing the committee.

“Farming can often times be perceived as a lonely occupation, which of course it can be.

“Rural isolation, depression, can be big problems, and although there is support available through Pieta House, neighbours also need to keep in contact with one another.

“I would encourage people who might feel isolated to attend their local IFA meetings, as it would be a good outlet for them. You will find at such gatherings that you meet like-minded people who will understand concerns you might have, be it with the weather, prices or whatever.

“Attending meetings like these are a great way of meeting people, getting out there and connecting with your neighbours and friends.

“Also in the farm family committee, there was some great work done with regards to the Fair Deal Scheme [the nursing home support scheme for people who need long term nursing home care]”.

Now Anne takes on a new role, as North Cork chairperson with plenty of new challenges ahead, no doubt.

“Our president, Joe Healy, said at a recent IFA meeting here in Corrin that 2018 will be a “defining year for Irish farming.”

“You have CAP, Mercosur and climate concerns, and obviously Brexit, which is hanging over us all the time.

“CAP is something we will be lobbying on very hard over the coming year.

“It’s so important now with the UK leaving the EU, that the CAP budget will be financed properly, that direct payments we get from the EU will be maintained.

“There are many sectors in Irish farming dependent on direct payments, like the beef sector which I would be well aware of myself.

“The fodder crisis is of course another issue that is looming large.

“North Cork might not be badly affected yet, it’s all dependent on how early the spring will happen.

“Calf exports are another worry.

“We are here at the mart today, and we are looking at a calf trade that is highly dependent on a good, vibrant calf export market.

“Simply put, if calves remain in the country, there will be a beef surplus in two years time.”

Guest speaker Damian McDonald, IFA Director General, front left, with the newly elected North Cork IFA officers at their recent AGM: front, from left, Billy Cotter, PRO; Anne Baker, Chairperson; John Coughlan, IFA Munster chairman. Back, from left, Denis Gallagher, Secretary; Michael Ryan, Honorary President; Michael John O’Sullivan, Treasurer; and Pat Mullins, Vice Chairman.

“A labour shortage is another concern on many farms right now, as we go into a very busy time on the land.

“It’s difficult at the moment to secure good, reliable labour.

“It’s a major problem in places, and something that needs to be addressed.

“And while on the subject of work, there’s the importance of farm safety.

“I feel it’s very important that farmers take a step back every now and then, and become aware of their environment, and of how dangerous our work can be.”

Farm building projects covered by TAMS is an area Anne feels needs to be re-examined.

“TAMS at the moment has no funding for underpasses for cattle.

“Cows on public roads can be a danger. From a health and safety aspect alone, I feel it would be important that funding be made available.”

So, plenty there to keep her busy in her new role.

What does she think about the role of women within the IFA?

Is Anne Baker the first woman to hold the North Cork chair?

“No. Mary Twomey Casey was the first female chairperson of North Cork IFA,” said Anne. Mary was elected to the post eight years ago, and is currently dairy chairperson in North Cork.

“Women have in fact had a strong presence in North Cork IFA in recent years.

“Nora Sheehan is vice-chairperson of the National Potato Committee, and chairperson of the North Cork Potato Committee.

“Sheena McCarthy is chairperson of the North Cork sheep committee.

“Anne O’Connor is chairperson of the farm family committee.

“And while there is a strong association of women being involved in North Cork, there is absolutely no reason why any other county shouldn’t have the same involvement of women in the IFA.

“It’s open to all to go along to a local branch meeting.

“These days, there is no impediment to getting involved in agriculture or farming related issues.

“The only impediment is really yourself.

“The mind set has completely changed, with regards to women in agriculture.”

I ask Anne does she see a woman being elected as President of the IFA?

“Oh, totally,” Anne replies, “and in the not too distant future”.

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