John Keane is under no illusions about the scale of the task he faces when he takes office as the 38th president of Macra na Feirme next month.
The beef and dairy farmer from Errill on the Laois-Tipperary border will take the reins as the organisation plots its post-COVID-19 recovery and navigates the upcoming CAP reform.
Having joined Macra in 2014, Keane has held positions at every level of the organisation from chair of his club, Devil’s Bit, to chair of the board.
When asked why he decided to put himself forward, Keane tells the Irish Farmers Journal: “I think seeing the impact that Macra can have both on our members at club and county level, but also the impact that we can have on a national scale.
“Seeing that first hand, being involved in the ag affairs committee and being involved with our board I think it gave me a real appreciation for what the organisation is and how strong the organisation is.”
While securing 90% of the vote at last week’s count was a positive start for Keane’s term, he emphasises the need to continue garnering buy-in from members.
“No one individual is going to drive this thing forward,” he stresses.
“I can have all these brilliant ideas and drive to make sure Macra is in safe hands and all that lovely stuff but in reality, no one individual, whether it’s me or whoever it is, is going to make any changes without the support of the organisation and that includes the members, clubs, regions, staff and volunteers.”
Keane says a key measure of success for his term will be re-engaging Macra’s membership with the organisation’s social occasions, internal competitions and policy forums, as society gradually returns to normality.
I know that Luna, Claire and Elaine are very passionate about developing those regions and developing those clubs
He is also conscious of the need to grow the membership by attracting new members in and enticing former members back.
“There is a huge amount of work there for volunteer leaders, including myself, first and foremost, and the presidential team.
“I know that Luna, Claire and Elaine are very passionate about developing those regions and developing those clubs,” he says, referring to Macra’s three new regional vice-presidents Luna Orofiamma (northwest), Elaine Houlihan (Munster) and Claire Gough (Leinster).
One of the main areas he identifies for improvement is Macra’s representation of itself.
“I think our communication outwardly as an organisation of the role that we play and how important we are to our members, and to the communities that we represent, I think that’s something we need to be a lot louder about.
“We need to be proud of our heritage, and we need to be proud of the impact that we have and communicate in a strong way, what it is to be a Macra member, what it is that our organisation can achieve every single day of the week right across the country and the individuals that we develop.
“That’s something we need to be really, really proud about and not to shy back from because I think when we start to tell our story about the impact that we have, people will realise that there is definitely a place for all people within Macra,” Keane says.
There’s an onus on farm organisations at the European level and at a national level to recognise that the continuation of our sector
Keane believes Macra is also well placed to tackle issues affecting all young people living in rural Ireland including transport, broadband and mental health.
On the farm policy front, Keane is focused on ensuring young farmers get a fair share of the CAP fund.
“There’s an onus on farm organisations at the European level and at a national level to recognise that the continuation of our sector and our industry is reliant on encouraging young people into the sector.
“That includes our national Government most of all. We have heard of this support, and speaking about supporting young farmers, but in reality, we’re going to need action and we’re going to need to see funding ring-fenced for young farmers.”
Solving the generational renewal puzzle
One of the nine priorities of the next CAP is generational renewal and attracting more young people to pursue a career in agriculture.
Share-farming arrangements and lease arrangements are hugely positive measures
Keane, who farms in partnership with his parents, is acutely aware of the need to explore every avenue of support.
He identifies lack of access to finance and land as the two main factors that stop young people becoming farmers.
“Share-farming arrangements and lease arrangements are hugely positive measures which must continue to be supported, and I think they are very beneficial for young farmers to get their foot in the door and get established,” Keane says.
He says the variety of tax reliefs on offer to young farmers are vital and need to be continued.
Direct payment budget
With Macra pushing for 4% of Ireland’s direct payment budget to be ring-fenced for young farmers, Keane wants to see existing supports such as the National Reserve and top-up payments supported, as well as the Government potentially offering installation aid.