IFA presidential candidate Tim Cullinan from Toomevara
Tipperary IFA presidential candidate Tim Cullinan has vowed to campaign for an EU ban on below cost selling of agricultural produce in supermarkets if elected to lead the country's biggest farming organisation.
He said below cost selling of farm produce ranging from fruit and vegetables to milk and meat by retailers has devalued this food to "virtually nothing".
"Retailers are making large profits on the back of using farm produce as a loss leader to attract customers into their shops. I think that is a fundamental problem across all sectors of farming," the Toomevara pig farmer told The Nationalist.
If elected president of IFA, he has pledged to work with farming organisations in other EU countries and run a campaign to get the EU Commission to legislate to ban below cost selling of food.
Mr Cullinan is no stranger to taking on the might of the supermarket retail giants and meat processors as an IFA activist. He has successfully brow beaten them to use more Irish pig meat instead of cheap imports.
He is currently national treasurer of the IFA, which boasts 72,000 members, and has previously served as IFA National Pig Committee chairman and North Tipperary IFA chairman.
Mr Cullinan, whose father Tim hailed from Kilmacomma, Clonmel, has spent the past few months travelling the length and breadth of the country seeking support from IFA members. Three weeks ago, he completed a blistering day of canvassing South Tipperary's 28 branches meetings the association's local grassroots in Dundrum, Cahir Mart, Lisronagh, Grangemockler and Killenaule.
The county's IFA members will get another chance to check out the local candidate and his policies when he takes part in a debate with his rivals John Coughlan from Buttevant in Cork and Angus Woods from Wicklow at the Horse & Jockey Hotel near Thurles on Thursday, November 14 at 8pm.
One of the most prominent issues in that debate will be the summer of discontent among the country's struggling beef farmers that culminated in more than two months of pickets at meat processsing plants.
Mr Cullinan said the IFA's battle now is to win back those beef and suckler farmers who turned to new organisations like the Beef Plan Movement and Independent Farmers of Ireland to fight their case.
He believes the IFA didn't adequately represent its beef sector members over the downward spiral of prices they were securing for their cattle in the past few years.
"I wasn't satisfied with the way it was handled by the asssociation. This crisis had been building since the drought of last summer and the meat factories had absolutely not supported their farmers."
He personally supported the beef protests and believes the IFA should have been involved more in showing leadership during the campaign.
During the dispute, Mr Cullinan led a protest group of 30, who entered the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission headquarters in Dublin and handed in a letter demanding the State agency "break up" what they described as the "cartel" controlling beef prices in Ireland.
"I am still awaiting a reply from the Competition Authority and it is definitely somehting I will be taking on (if elected IFA president). "
Mr Cullinan said the Beef Agreement hammered out in September wasn't enough as no increase was agreed on the base price paid to farmers for their cattle.
One rule he firmly believes should be scrapped is the 30 month-age limit requirement on the slaughtering of heifers and steers. It was introduced in the 1990s as a measure to counter BSE but there is now no scientific basis to continue it, he argues. In September he called on Agriculture Minister Michael Creed to publicly declare there was no scientific or statutory requirement for the rule and criticised it as simply "a lever to manage beef supplies and hold down prices".
He believes the ban on below cost selling of farms produce he is seeking is vital to ensure the survival of Irish beef and suckler farmers.
"No government wants to put in legislation for dearer food but we are at a point in time that if we don't do something we are going to lose a whole section of beef farmers. We have to protect suckler farmers. We have to get back a (profit) margin for them. The retailers have to give more."
Working to mitigate the impact of Brexit on farmers will be one of the new IFA president's biggest challenges.
Mr Cullinan said the Government will have to deliver a "serious" compensation package for Irish farmers and find ways of getting easy access for Irish farm produce to European markets. If elected president, he said he will also lead a campaign to secure a support payment for the country's suckler and sheep farmers to help them continue to farm.
He says he will also strive to secure a bigger slice of the retail market for home produced lamb. "We have half a million lambs being imported into the country. That is putting serious downward pressure on Irish lamb prices."
Likewise for tillage farmers, Mr Cullinan says he will be calling out Irish distilleries and brewing companies for using imported grain while making millions on the back of using the name of Irish farmers to promote their drinks.
In the dairy sector, his priority issues are ensuring farmers get enough profit margin for their milk, particularly in relation to high value products like infant formula being exported to Asia. The IFA will must also help dairy farmers to deal with the surplus of bull calves next spring and ensure there is no restrictions on exporting calves to markets that want them.
In relation to the environment, he says under the Paris Agreement Ireland is being treated the same as other countries in relation to cattle methane emissions. But our grass based beef and dairy farming means Irish cattle produce less methane emissions. He wants Teagasc to do more research in this area. "I am not going to stand for this nonsense that we have to halve our suckler and dairy herds,” he declared.
Mr Cullinan has been farming 40 years and his wife Margaret and eldest son Stephen are involved in running the farm with him. He has been active in the IFA since 2004. The issue that prompted him to get involved was the Nitrates Directive being enacted at that time.
"The directive was proposing to exclude the spreading of pig and poultry manure on farm land. The directive was also going to be very restrictive on dairy farming," he recalls.
He rolled up his sleeves and worked on the IFA's campaign to stop these measure going through. "The outcome was we got a derogation on the spreading of pig and poulty manure on farmland and we got the derogation for dairy farmers who could have an organic N load of up to 250kg per hectacre, which still stands today."
He became chairman the IFA's National Pig Committee in 2008 and served in this role until 2012. Only a week after taking over as chairman, the Irish pigmeat dioxin crisis erupted. Mr Cullinane was involved in negotiating a €140m compensation package from the Government for farmers and meat processors affected by the recall of Irish pigmeat during the scare.
During that crisis, it became apparent a lot of imported pigmeat was being sold in Irish supermarkets even under well known Irish brands. Mr Cullinan led several campaigns that pressured meat processors and retailers to use and sell more Irish pigmeat.
As part of that campaign, the IFA introduced the world's first DNA traceability scheme that enabled the DNA of pigmeat products such as rashers, sausages and ham sold in shops to be tested to show whether they were Irish or imported. The DNA testing embarrassed meat processors and retailers into changing over to genuine Irish pigmeat.
"We went to war with the retailers and the outcome was that one of the leading retailers gave a commitment to use 100% Irish pigmeat products and that stands today," said Mr Cullinan proudly.
He claims the IFA campaigns increased the price Irish pig farmers got for their produc from 90 to 95% of the EU average price to 110% of the EU average price over a period of five years. Another campaign he led secured an extra payment of 12c per kg to pig producers from a number of retailers at a time of crisis in pig farming.
In 2013, he became IFA chairman for North Tipperary. During his four year term he led a campaign that highlighted problems farmers were experiencing with Department of Agriculture inspections.
A parliamentary question he got tabled in the Dail showed farmers in north Tipp incurred €1.2m in penalties over two years arising from Department of Agriculture inspections. It was a significant increase and higher than other counties.
Mr Cullinan organised a sit-in at the Department of Agriculture's office in Nenagh in a bid to get officials to listen to farmers concerns about the inspections. He even gave a presentation to the Dail's Agriculture Committee
The campaign ended with the Department of Agriculture bowing to IFA pressure and implementing changes. Mr Cullinan reports the manner in which inspections are now carried out in north Tipperary is now much more "farmer friendly" and less stressful.
He says this track record of leadership and delivering for farmers make him the right person to provide strong leadership of the IFA over the next four years.
While he is critical of the Association's recent record in representing the plight of beef farmers, he believes the IFA is the farming organisation in the best position to fight their case.
"Farming representation has become very divided in recent times but I am a very strong believer in having one voice representing farmers. My absolute belief is that voice should be the IFA. It has served me very well in the past and I absolutely believe IFA will serve farmers well in the future."