Well known farming figure Tim Cullinan has declared his intention to become the next President of the IFA with a promise to “go to war” on behalf of Irish farmers.
Confirming his intention to run in the forthcoming election, Cullinan said it was time to fight for farmers and their future. Already a proven winner in a number of key battles for farmers, he said that in his lifetime of experience of dairy, beef, tillage but predominantly pig farming, he has never seen so many incomes as challenged and farm families as concerned as they are now.
Speaking at a packed parish hall in his native Toomevera as he declared his intention to run in front of his local branch members and other supporters, the married father of two said that whether it’s processors, retailers, government or the EU, with him as IFA president, those responsible for putting farmers on the breadline can expect a fight like they’ve never experienced before from Irish farmers.
“Quite simply for farmers, enough is enough; it’s time to stand up for ourselves - for who we are and for what we do,” he told supporters. “This is going to be a campaign of action that is about putting respect back into farming and giving respect back to farmers, farm families and all who make a living from the land.
“I’ve never been afraid to take a stand. My 15 years in Committees and County roles has been about making a stand, fighting for farmers – and getting results. I think people in this room know when I go to war on something, I don’t take a step back. If there ever was a time when this kind of action was needed on behalf of Irish farmers – it’s now.”
The IFA activist has led several IFA campaigns since the mid-2000s. His most notable successes were on the dioxin crisis when he spearheaded the successful bid for €140 million for the industry to avoid total collapse of the sector. He also led a campaign to get a 12cent bonus for pig and got a major retailer to use 100 percent Irish pig meat in own-brand products.
However, his time fighting for farmers extended to other sectors, most notably his success in leading a high-profile campaign to redress disproportionate inspections in his native Tipperary which saw farmers fined up to €1.2m between 2010 and 2015. His campaign involved a sit-in at the local department offices and eventually to a clean resolution on the matter for local farmers.
However, he said, the current crisis hitting farmers is unprecedented. “The assault on farming is coming from all quarters. Falling prices at the factory gate, penalties on the GRID system, beef imports from Brazil and another vicious assault this week on dry stock and suckler farmers in the latest Climate Report. We’re not taking it. It’s unacceptable and it’s grossly unfair.
“It’s time to use the biggest asset we have – the strength of the IFA and the strength of our 72,000 members to fight our case. I want to lead the IFA. I want to lead the charge and deliver for farmers. The IFA must stand up for farmers. That’s our job and I intend to use all the resources of the biggest farming organisation in this country to deliver for farmers.”
On the beef and the cattle crisis, he signalled a major battle ahead with factories, ordering them to keep their hands off the Brexit fund. “Factories, global beef barons and retailers are all taking advantage for too long. Everyone’s paw is on the profit except the farmers. Our hard work and commitment to quality is being cashed in by others. Cattle prices have collapsed and the €100m Brexit aid fund is now vital to help those suffering most. Those farmers who deserve help must get it and factories’ hands must be kept well away from the Brexit fund,” he said.
Cullinan also stated that the GRID system is penalising farmers and must be addressed. “I believe the GRID system could be costing farmers up to €30 million a year, an unacceptable and unbearable cost for them. The GRID as it now stands has to go. I’m now looking for a complete review of what I believe is a sham of a system that has been in place for 10 years,” he stated.
On climate change he said that the “vicious assault” on Irish farmers and Irish cattle continued this week with the new Climate Change Advisory Council Report. “This report suggests that Ireland’s sucker herd be reduced by 53%. Are they mad? What do they take us for? Do they take us for fools? This move by the Climate Change Council, an arm of the state, would decimate our stock and more importantly the families who are doing their best to make a living from farming. The Irish herd cannot be sold out.”
China, India, Russia, the United States, Brazil and Indonesia alone account for over 50% of the emissions in the world, he continued. “This global debate cannot start by proposing to eliminate the small suckler farmer in the west of Ireland and throughout the disadvantaged areas of the country. Our farmers are for progress and we’ll play our part - we’ve shown that time and time again. But we’re not going to be the soft target - not by anyone, not from any quarter.”
On Mercosur, he said that the beef barons of Brazil who are chopping down forests in the Amazon basin are cashing in on the double standards being allowed by the European Commission. “The Department of Agriculture and the EU are quick to hold Irish farmers to account on standards. Rules, regulations, checks, audits and inspections - no stone is left unturned. But it’s double standards when it comes to beef imports,” he said, pledging to build alliances with French and Italian farmers in Europe to stop this deal.
“My message is simple. The deal as it stands, cannot be signed. Our farmers are already on the brink.”
Regarding dairying, he said commentary from the likes of Professor John Fitzgerald that we need to stop expanding the dairy herd is beyond belief. “Our dairy farmers have been restrained long enough. They must now be allowed to take advantage of the opportunities in global growth and markets for dairy products.”
Cullinan said that sheep farmers are also going through a particularly tough time, with sheep prices collapsing and pressure on incomes. “Factories are using the massive drop in sterling to bring cheap lambs from the north to collapse prices. In 2018, southern factories brought almost a half a million lambs in from Northern Ireland. There is already an oversupply of sheep meat in the country. Factories have to realise that we will not allow a situation to continue where factories are making large profits from bringing in lambs while our own sheep farmers are making none – and are going broke.”
Turning to tillage, he said that the drinks and whiskey industry is flourishing, building their brands off the back of sustainably produced Irish malting barley but not a cent of the profits from this added value has been passed back to the tillage farmer. “I will challenge the industry to pay a proper premium to growers.”
He also had a word of warning for retailers on below-cost selling. “I think everybody here knows I have led the war against the retailers. Several wars. And won them all. Retailers can be smug – I’ve seen them, and I’ve seen them try to patronise farmers with glossy posters and fancy adverts. But retailers will only respond to targeted action with facts and figures, and effective IFA publicity does deliver results. And in this fight to prevent below cost selling I will lead the toughest campaign that they’ve ever experienced,” he vowed.