Economic sustainability for drystock farmers ‘must be focus’ for McConalogue

The appointment of Charlie McConalogue as Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine has been welcomed by the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association (ICSA).

Commenting on Minister McConalogue’s appointment this afternoon (Wednesday, September 2) ICSA president Edmond Phelan outlined what his organisation wants to see the new minister prioritise:

“The focus must be on delivering economic sustainability to cattle and sheep farmers and the ICSA looks forward to working closely with Minister McConalogue.”

Noting that agriculture has “suffered over recent months”, he added:

Minister McConalogue now needs to get to grips with the pressing issues and make up for lost time. The key issues will be Brexit and the CAP [Common Agricultural Policy] reform, both of which will be critical in determining the future for Irish farming.

The Beef Market Taskforce in particular needs to deliver for farmers, he said, noting that the taskforce has been in existence for a year now and warning “farmers are getting frustrated with the current lack of urgency”.

“Minister McConalogue needs to inject a sense of urgency into the Beef Market Taskforce. It has been side-lined for too long and farmers want results now.

“It must bring about total transparency in the food chain and ensure that neither processor nor retailer can abuse their dominant positions.

“To this end, the ICSA wants to ensure that our demand for a regulator for the beef food chain is delivered.”

Turning to the TB Forum, Phelan said that the body should be reconvened as a matter of urgency.

The promised TB Forum did not happen at the end of August due to the absence of a minister, yet the department is moving ahead with changes to the TB Eradication Programme that were not previously agreed to, and which are causing much disquiet amongst farmers.

“Most notably, the issuing of TB Herd History Risk Statements to farmers is a matter that requires the minister’s urgent attention.”

Commenting on suckler beef, and the potential for a brand, Phelan said:

“We are opposed to the Bord Bia application for EU Protected Geographical Indication [PGI] status for Grass Fed Beef. Rather, the ICSA believes a suckler-based application is more appropriate and indeed is vital for the survival of the suckler sector.”

On environmental schemes, the ICSA president said: “The roll-out of a new REPS [Rural Environmental Protection Scheme] type scheme is vital if we are serious about playing our part in the EU Biodiversity and Farm to Fork strategies.

The ICSA is calling for a trebling of the current GLAS [Green, Low-Carbon, Agri-Environment Scheme] budget to facilitate the scheme, given the numbers of farmers it would hope to attract. An annual budget of €750 million is the minimum required.

“ICSA also wants to see the establishment of a dedicated Sheep Taskforce with a remit to tackle all the ongoing issues in the sector.

“There is also an urgent need to develop a new and improved Sheep Welfare Scheme that could deliver substantially more financial benefit to sheep farmers,” Phelan concluded.