A NEW national president of Macra na Feirme will take up office at the organisation’s annual general meeting in Drumshanbo, Co Leitrim, this coming Saturday.
James Healy from Kilmartin, Donoughmore, Co Cork, a production supervisor and occasional farm relief worker, will be the 36th holder of the office.
He will also be the seventh person from Co Cork to fill the leadership role, having been elected to the position last month.
Macra na Feirme has a proud record in producing people who have given outstanding service at community and national levels.
It was founded in 1944 by a group of 12 agricultural advisors, rural science teachers and farmers, with Stephen Cullinan as the first secrtetary.
One of the new president’s early tasks will be to oversee the implementation of a strategic plan for the organisation.
It caters for young people between the ages of 17 and 35 and is committed to the personal development of its 8,000 members.
Macra puts emphasis on social interaction and participation through training programmes and competitions in debating, public speaking and other skills.
Over 250,000 young people have passed through its ranks over the past 73 years. Some became leaders in farm organisations, business, politics and in their own communities.
Young people today have different priorities, however, and need new challenges, which Macra tries to provide through some 200 clubs in 31 regions.
About one-third of Macra members are involved in farming, with males making up 60% of the membership and females 40%.
James Healy is a founder of the reformed Donoughmore club in the Muskerry region and has also served as an officer at regional and national levels.
The eldest in a family of four children, his mother Margaret works in the local post office and his father Bernard works for Crowley Engineering as well as keeping a few bullocks.
His uncle, Pat O’Sullivan, is a dairy farmer at Lighthouse Cross, Ballydesmond, where the next Macra leader spent many weekends, milking cows and drawing silage during the summer.
James holds a Bachelor of Engineering degree from CIT. He graduated in 2007 and has worked for a number of companies in the agriculture sector including O’Donovan Engineering.
He is currently employed as a production supervisor for Wisetek, based in Glanmire, where he has been given the work-related opportunity to travel to the United States, Thailand and China.
James has volunteered at a youth Café in Cork City for the last seven years, after completing a Diploma in Community Development at University College Cork.
He said this diploma gave him unique insight into what it takes to create a sense of community and give Macra clubs a real connection with their local areas.
A volunteer at his local carnival, James has played both local soccer and GAA for Donoughmore, but Macra, which he joined in 2004, has become his first calling. He has seen at first hand the difficulties facing Macra clubs in recruiting new members and holding on to them afterwards, but says there is no one solution to the issue.
“Macra has always been an organisation that provides huge opportunities for its members and if we are to grow membership and increase levels of activity, we must provide opportunities that the members actually want,” he said.
Mr Healy said Macra has, in the past few months, conducted a large consultation exercise with the membership in regards to CAP2020 and it will also be vocal about the concerns of young farmers over Brexit.
“Young, educated farmers will drive this industry to new heights. They have the knowledge, the enthusiasm and the belief that we as a country can lead the world in enviormentally sustainable food production and further enhance our internationally recognised green credentials.
“We must strive to make farming a job with a future, one that can provide not just a living but a career where farmers will have the confidence to continually develop their business,” James said.
He explained that another way to make farming a more attractive career is to ensure that it is a safe environment in which to work.
It was recently stated that agriculture is 8% of the workforce but accounts for 50% of deaths. This does not even take into account the accidents and near misses that happen on farms on a daily basis.
“Like every other aspect of agriculture, young trained farmers will be the ones to show that farming can be a much safer work environment but we must give them the tools to do so,” he said.
Mr Healy said people join Macra for a wide variety of reasons but from his own experience the members that stay the longest and have the greatest affection for the organisation are often those that take part in competitions. These offer the greatest opportunities for personal development and social interaction.
Pointing out that Macra also focuses on education and physical and mental well-being, he said it represents an age group that is amongst the most vulnerable and must continue to promote an overall awareness of the issues involved.
“There is little doubt that joining Macra has played an influential part in making me the individual I am today. Through my membership, I have gained much from the opportunities provided and I want to make sure these and more opportunities will continue to be available for all members into the future.
“For this to happen, we must work together as a team to allow Macra to grow and prosper,” he said.
Mr Healy said the landscape of rural Ireland is changing greatly but he was looking forward to serving the Macra membership and moving the organisation forward for what is sure to be a challenging couple of years, particularly with the impact of Brexit.