The Farmers’ Alliance, Ireland’s newest farming organisation was recently launched on Sunday as hundreds of farmers are frustrated with a lack of representation on certain agricultural and rural issues. Agri Insider spoke with founder Liam McLaughlin about the new organisation’s priorities, the nuances from other farm groups and if there are any parallels with the Dutch movement, the BBB.
What is the new group?
The Farmers’ Alliance was established following a meeting organised through Ireland’s Farm Discussion Group Facebook page in February. Liam McLaughlin is the founder, who set up the social media page, and is among the organisers of the new group has detailed how hundreds of farmers have contacted him to share their frustration at issues such as marginal profitability and even the role of tillage farming in a more circular economy.
Other objectives include setting up a co-op for the group, establishing a purchasing group and even setting up a national party, inspired by the success of the newly formed Netherlands party, the BBB. The group are likely to crystallise their aims and objectives through organised meetings around the country over the next couple of weeks and months.
Speaking about the immediate priorities for the Farmers’ Alliance, Liam said: “We’re going to travel the country, we’re going to take the country north and south, county by county with meetings. The next thing is to hit Limerick and Kerry. The main goal of this, though,is to try and reduce costs and try to increase the price of our product.
“We would like to hook up a more direct link between the farmer and the tillage farmer. What we’re at is kind of nonsense. We’re passing our crops into the mills and co-ops to sell out at a profit of €200/t more or something like that. Why not link directly to the farmer?
“We have a heavy interest in reinstating country markets and let people direct sell their produce to the public. We are intending to establish nationwide co-operatives north and south to basically use all small existing farm outlets and distributors to import the goods and disperse them around the country.”
One of the most interesting narratives in Irish and global agriculture is that farmers and rural communities feel their livelihoods are under threat. Such publications as the Climate Action Plan and the more recent Citizens’ Assembly Biodiversity report have added to that anxiety. Liam wants to represent farmers more actively: “I suppose representing farmers, there’s a lot of nonsense being pushed on us like rewetting and forestry. We’re not against looking after the environment but we are basically going to push back against that.”
Irish agriculture has already seen frustration in the way farmers are being represented manifest in the form of new organisations such as the Beef Plan Movement or the Irish Natura And Hill Farmers Association over the last ten years. Now more than ever, there are more agricultural organisations representing different interests so what makes the Farmers’ Alliance unique? Liam responded: “Nobody has come up with these ideas before and they were sitting in front of people, nobody picked up on them. We are not like other organisations, we’re not linked to factories and we’re not linked to government.
“We will be a standalone outfit and we’ll be representing the farmer, rural people and if possible the cities and towns because they’re our customers, they are the consumer. We want to establish a relationship with them too and I fully intend to drop a farmers meeting in Dublin city over the next few weeks.”
Leader of the Dutch agrarian party (BBB or Farmer-Citizen Movement), Caroline van der Plas addressed the meeting over the weekend urging the meeting to form a political party and contest local elections. There are parallels to the Dutch situation according to Liam. “I see big similarities between us. The only difference in us and the BBB, they were built out of protesting and here we’re skipping the protesting. We don’t believe in protesting.
“We’ve been protesting for 50 years and we have achieved nothing. If we do decide to go down that road (political party), we will be following the example of the BBB because Caroline has offered her assistance. I believe a similar set-up could be put in place in Ireland and I believe we can achieve it.”
This week, the organisation has been inundated with phone calls from farmers to communicate their issues. Support for the group continues to swell but credit goes to other members according to Liam, ‘We wouldn’t be where we are today without George O’Malley, he deserves a shout out definitely’. One of the main challenges for the organisation is to put new ideas into a coherent policy that will satisfy group members. Right now, Liam McLaughlin and co are planning to meet the country to tease out these issues.