Legal eagle ready and able for Macra challenge

New Macra na Feirme national president Kieran O’Dowd hit the ground running with a strong inauguration statement at the recent national Macra AGM.

A practising barrister with a financial background, he is the first Macra president from Co Sligo, and is a native of Gurteen.

*You are one of the rare non-farmer Macra presidents, is that a disadvantage?

>>As a non-farming president, I believe that I may bring a fresh perspective to the role. However, I was raised in a farming environment in rural south Sligo and my father had a farm machinery business for over 50 years, so I have had a lot of dealings with the farming community down through the years. Not being aligned to any particular type of farming, I hope I will be well-placed to question and challenge our policies so as to ensure that we can get the correct message across to a wide variety of people, including the general public.

*Will you find your training as a barrister useful as Macra president?

>>Yes, I believe my training as a barrister will stand to me in my role as president of Macra na Feirme. As a barrister, I must apply my advocacy and negotiation skills on behalf of the person I represent in a court case. In a similar way, as Macra na Feirme president, I will act as an advocate on behalf of the organisation and, of course, will be involved in negotiations on behalf of Macra with the various stakeholders in the agricultural sector, in particular the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine.

*What will be the main priorities for you during your tenure?

>>I believe that a land use audit needs to be carried out in Ireland to see how our land, which is a scarce resource, is being farmed. And following such a land use audit, the logical conclusion is that a land use policy should be developed, so as to ensure that we can see how we can get the most productive use out of the land, with an aim to achieving our Food Harvest 2020 targets.

At present, the main priority is achieving the most we can from the CAP negotiations.

We are disappointed that it looks like the young farmer measures will be voluntary and not mandatory, and so, while Minister Coveney has given us his assurance that he will implement it in Ireland, if in the future he moves to a different portfolio, then we cannot be guaranteed that a new minister will continue to implement it.

Over the longer term of my presidency, the land mobility study we conducted last year will be further developed, as we will be recruiting a person to work on the study recommendations, and this will be very important. Access to land is vital for young trained farmers to enter the industry, be that through inheritance, leasing agreements or some collaborative arrangements, as long as they get the opportunity to farm and develop a career, then hopefully we will address the serious age imbalance in the industry at present.

Lease agreements need to be for a minimum period of five years to give the farmer at least some level of security starting off. The practice of conacre should be disincentivised, by having less favourable tax treatment, for example.

*What can be done to prevent a fodder shortage in the future?

>>Well, it may not be possible to prevent a fodder shortage in the future, but we can work to minimise its impact. There are a number of variables at play, with the weather being the predominant one, with the bad summer last year and the terrible spring we have just come through. Grass is growing at the moment so the application of fertiliser is vital to maximise growth over the next month and a bit.

We need to work towards becoming self-sufficient in our fodder production again, and with the growth in herd numbers as we head towards 2020, the requirement for fodder will increase, so there will be a market for farmers who produce fodder over and above their own requirements.

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