The turnout of the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers Association (ICSA) elections last night in Portlaoise was more than 98 per cent, with its new president Wexford-man Patrick Kent declared elected shortly after 10pm.

In his acceptance speech, Kent said he was honoured to have been elected and said he aimed to use his presidency to empower the organisation further and represent ICSA members as strongly as possible.

Kent, a cattle and sheep farmer from New Ross, said his main priorities include tackling the issue of low farming incomes and the sustainability of small family farms. He will take up the reins at the ICSA AGM and annual conference early next year.

Speaking to AgriLand this morning on the road back to Wexford, the president elect said there were many challenges ahead facing the sector and its 10,000 members.

“There are a lot of different issues facing the sector. Farmers’ incomes and the bad weather last year are just a few. Going forward the price of livestock is going to be key,” he said.

In terms of opportunities, Kent said attracting more people into farming and trying to get older farmers to retire are key priorities. “There are no farming early retirement schemes so there is an opportunity  to secure these.”

One of the dangers facing the sector, he stressed, was “quality stock” for beef with the increasing focus on dairy herds. “We want to produce quality beef. Farmers here are loosing market share with the decline in suckler cows and suckler cow calving numbers. This is worrying.”

Kent was also critical of Harvest 2020 and the ICSA is seeking a re-examination of its projections. “There is much divide over that plan. With increased production costs and the increase workload of the farmer, there is a danger that maybe the farmer will be working harder for less.”

In terms of the strength of the ICSA, he said it had a strong network across Ireland. “We have delegates across the country. The election last night had a big turnout, more than 98 per cent. It was a very enthusiastic crowd. We are very positive, smart and forward-thinking people.”

With the imminent announcement of the next Rural Development Plan, the president elect said the organisation is looking forward to seeing the final details. “Until then, we have no comment to make but I would stress that 50:50 co-funding is very important and very necessary.”

With regards to Ireland’s rollout of the new Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), he warned there were “huge dangers” ahead for many of its members.

“We feel there are more losers than winners in the new CAP, in the drystock sector in particular. At the moment there is very little room for optimism in the drystock sector. Costs are high and beef prices are flat, but the ICSA will work harder and fight harder.”

And with that the man of the moment took to the road home.

Pictured Patrick Kent at the ICSA Ireland elections last night