ICMSA ‘sets out key concerns’ for agri-sector in meeting with Cowen

Newly appointed Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Barry Cowen, is beginning to hold meetings and consultations with agriculture sector stakeholders, including with farm organisations.

Yesterday, Thursday, July 9, the minister held his first meeting with the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers’ Association (ICMSA), in which the association “set out key farmer concerns”.

ICMSA president Pat McCormack highlighted the need for sustainable farm incomes to be delivered, and for this to be central to the new government’s policy.

The ICMSA drew particular attention to the need for a fully funded Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), at least maintaining the existing budget with a “strong focus on active farmers”.

The association also pointed to the need for an EU-UK free trade agreement to be in place by year end – and if not, that the incomes of farmers are protected from the fallout; and also the need for the immediate establishment of the food ombudsman office.

Other issues that were addressed during the meeting included: the live export trade; a dairy beef calf scheme; the nitrates derogation; and the upcoming environment scheme modeled after the Rural Environment Protection Scheme (REPS).

“Farmers are facing into a very challenging period and the first test of this government will be securing a CAP budget at least maintained at current levels…the EU Council meeting later this month will be critical in this regard,” McCormack argued.

He concluded: “Farmers need to see immediate delivery.”

‘Intensive engagement with key players’

Minister Cowen has held several meetings (face-to-face and virtually) this week with the “key players” in both the agriculture sector here and in European politics.

Yesterday, the minister spoke with European Commissioner for Trade Phil Hogan, as well as Commissioner for Agriculture Janusz Wojciechowski.

He also spoke with his UK counterpart George Eustice, the UK’s secretary of state for environment, food and rural affairs.

Minister Cowen was joined in these meetings by the ministers of state at the Department of Agriculture, Pippa Hackett and Martin Heydon.

“This has been a very useful week of discussions with a range of key people, as we face into a very challenging period for the agri-food sector. A lot of uncertainty still abounds in relation to Brexit, CAP reform, the future EU budget and the wider trading environment,” the minister said yesterday.

He added: “All of these have to be tackled while the sector also has to meet much higher levels of environment and climate ambition. It was therefore important for me to get the perspectives of key players at EU level, at UK government level and among domestic stakeholders.

“It is clear to me from my discussions this week that, while there are big challenges ahead, there are also significant opportunities that we can seek to benefit from. I am very optimistic about the sector’s prospects, and I firmly believe that we should approach the future with confidence,” Minister Cowen concluded.