Farmers are involved in more fatal incidents because lack of profit is forcing them to work longer hours to support their families, IFA president Eddie Downey has said.
He was speaking after he told the association’s agm that the loss of lives on farms could not continue.
Safety measures had definitely improved on farms in recent years, he added. “They’re better, they’re cleaner, they’re tidier than they were,” he said. “But the problem is they’re busier, and there’s a stress level there that we need to tackle and we need to take it out of the system.
“Lack of profitability is forcing people to do more work, spend more hours at what they are doing to try to get enough of an income to support a family,” he said.
“And that’s been a particular problem for the last couple of years because you’ve seen the drop in the rural development payments. They have been a critical and crucial support mechanism there.”
Mr Downey said those payments would increase under the new Common Agricultural Policy (Cap) reform plan, “so hopefully that will help to alleviate some of the problems”.
He told the 120 farmers at the agm they must think about farm safety in everything they do. “It is a dangerous place. We need to go in and farm defensively, think defensively. We have to get a change in attitudes,” he said. “We cannot keep going on losing lives the way we are.”
He said the IFA held some 2,000 meetings a year, and every IFA officer was told they must speak about farm safety at some point during those meetings.
The association was also working with co-ops and merchants, encouraging them to put stickers on farm machinery and feed and fertiliser bags, reminding them to farm safely. “We’ll redouble our efforts,” he said.
Last year was the worst year since 1991 for farm fatalities, with 30 deaths recorded. The first farm-linked death this year occurred last week when Johnny Ryan, father of Kilkenny hurling star Lester Ryan, died in a machinery-related incident.
The Health and Safety Authority has said it will clamp down on farmers found carrying children under seven years of age on tractors. Mr Downey said tractors were not a safe place for young children, "but it's an awful lot safer than having them on the ground, running around the yard. And it's a difficulty for us."
He said farmers faced a predicament because farms were also places of education.
“We have to educate the next generation who want to come along to farming - but how do you do that if you don’t bring them in there? So we have to get this balance right.”
Mr Downey set out a 10-point plan of action to protect family farm incomes. This includes the appointment of a supermarkets ombudsman to ensure farmers get a fair share of the consumer price for their produce.
It calls for the immediate introduction of new farm schemes and says State agencies such as Teagasc must do more to help farmers become more efficient.
It also calls for a strong brand for premium Irish produce. Mr Downey said this would do what Kerrygold brand did for Irish butter.
He said Bord Bia and the Irish Dairy Board should produce a marketing and branding strategy that would deliver a price premium similar to the premium received by producers of Scottish beef and lamb.