The COVID-19 pandemic affected every club and every region of Macra, says the organisation’s president John Keane.
“Our activities as we knew them couldn’t happen in person for almost two years. The online platform worked well but as the pandemic continued people’s appetite for quizzes or debates across a phone or laptop understandably waned.”
Now, with lockdown over and new CEO Michael Curran leading a freshened team, Keane says it’s time to get Macra’s 11,000 affilliated members fully engaged again: “We’re in a position to come out stronger than we were prior to the pandemic.
“A lot of young people are looking for something with a purpose, that can be fun and will also be social. Macra uniquely fills that need.”
Turf is just the latest rural issue where the debate has been divisive and at times toxic. “Macra can be the authentic voice of rural Ireland,” Keane said.
“I’m not sure the polarised public debate is an accurate reflection of how most people think. We need to be cognisant that people’s way of life will be changed, and manage that change in a way that brings people with us”.
Climate issues are rightly close to Macra’s heart, he says: “As young farmers and citizens, we will be negatively affected by climate change over the next 40-50 years, it’s our shared future we’re fighting for.”
A priority for Keane is to reinvigorate Macra’s young farmer development groups and get members enthused about shaping their industry.
“We’ll focus internally first. There’s been a huge amount of change since we last worked our way around the country in 2018. CAP, nitrates, Farm to Fork, biodiversity, and climate action have overloaded our members, and that was before the massive changes triggered by the invasion of Ukraine.”
Keane says Macra will challenge the minister on the level of ambition around young farmers. The Government’s target for 2028 would see less than 5% of all farmers receiving payments under the age of 35.
“If the same figures pertained in teaching or healthcare it would be called a crisis. It’s a ticking timebomb for farming. Countries like Austria and Finland have over 10% of young farmers, and are aiming for the high teens. The minister’s words about young farmer access must be backed up with action,” he said.