ICSA Ireland, the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers Association, president elect Patrick Kent has told AgriLand that Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney must act decisively to ensure the ongoing sustainability of family farms in Ireland.

“No doubt the minister is fully aware that 2014 has been designated the ‘International Year of Family Farming’. And nowhere in Europe does this term have more resonance than here in Ireland,” he added.

“And the first thing that he could do in this regard is ensure that the next Rural Development Programme is adequately funded. The reality is that schemes such as REPS have been tremendously influential in improving the vitality of our rural areas. And it goes without saying that all of this work must be built on during the period ahead. But this will require an adequate level of funding. ”

Continuing on the theme of sustainability, Kent stressed that Irish consumers must be made more aware of the tremendous quality, which is such a hallmark of locally produced food.

“There is far too much junk food being sold in our shops,” he further explained.

“All of this can be quite easily replaced by home grown produce. Irish beef and lamb, produced from grazed grass, are truly elite products which must be recognised as such beyond the farm gate.

“Part of the problem up to now is that home grown food has not been promoted effectively. And this must be changed.”

The ICSA representative also pointed out that local consumers should be prepared to pay more for locally produced food.

“Ten years ago 27 per cent of an average household income was dedicated to weekly food purchases,” he stressed.

“Today the equivalent figure is just 17 per cent. During this same period, however, the quality of locally produced beef and lamb has improved significantly.”

Kent is firmly of the view that Irish family farm businesses should not get caught up in a rat race, vying with each other to see who can produce the largest level of output.

“Quality is the name of the game,” he continued.

“Local farmers can invest in improved management systems which will allow them significantly improve the value of the produce they are bringing to market. And to achieve this, they must think beyond the meat plant and think pro-actively about the needs of consumers.

“But the bottom line in all of this is that farmers must be paid accordingly. The days of cheap food are over.”