He was 69.
IFA president Pádraig Walshe described Mr Rea as a talented and determined representative of farmers.
He said Mr Rea would be sadly missed by the farming community.
Mr Rea’s four-year term as IFA leader in the 1980s straddled the milestone decision to include farmers in national pay talks.
Mr Rea duly led the country’s farmers into the first national partnership agreement in 1987.
He was later chairman of Teagasc, the agriculture and food development authority.
Outspoken and controversial, the farmer from Cahir, Co Tipperary, and devoted hurling fan did not always see eye to eye with the IFA leadership.
For example, in 2004 he attacked the farm body for setting up “IFA countryside” to allow hunting, fishing, shooting and walking enthusiasts to have associate membership for a fee of €65 annually.
When the proposal was mooted, Mr Rea said it would be selling a precious inheritance.
As chairman of the N8 Action Group (NAG), Mr Rea had threatened to contest the June 2001 Tipperary South byelection amid concerns over a planned motorway in his area.
While NAG wanted the N8 upgraded, Mr Rea declared that a dual carriageway would destroy one of Ireland’s most scenic areas — the valley between the Galtee Mountains on one side and the Knockmealdowns and Comeraghs on the other.
The former farm leader was a constant thorn in the side of the Greencore sugar company.
Following the closure of the Carlow sugar processing factory in early 2006, Mr Rea voiced his outrage at the prospect of there being inadequate compensation for beet producers.
Writing in the Irish Farmers Journal last July, Mr Rea listed 10 rural constituencies outside Dublin where the Government could be vulnerable should farmers not get most of the available compensation.
In his article, Mr Rea noted that in Kildare North a mere 135 votes had decided the last seat in the 2002 general election.
Mr Rea is survived by his wife Margaret and their children Michael, Martin and Trina.