Improving the farmer’s lot: ICSA leaders outline future focus

Better prices, more work on exports, farm safety, mental health awareness and protecting the family farm were all issues highlighted by the victors of the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association’s (ICSA’s) committee chair elections at the ICSA AGM and convention last night.

The farmers’ organisation held ballots for the contested roles of chairs for the Beef and Rural Development Committees respectively at the AGM and National Convention.

Beef priorities

Monaghan man Edmund Graham, the outgoing vice-chair of the Beef Committee, was elected Beef chairman after contesting an election with the association’s current Roscommon chairman, Ger Grehan.

Succeeding outgoing Beef chairman Edmond Phelan from Co. Waterford, who has served two terms, Graham set his focus on upping the price of beef for the producer and “levelling the playing field“.

Outlining his priorities as chairman, Graham said: “My priorities are to improve prices for beef farmers; the whole cattle grid in the factories really needs to be looked at. I think at this stage they’re outdated and unfit for purpose; they need to be changed.

There needs to be more investment made there, if we are to get fairer prices.

Moving on to live exports, Graham said: “The government has done well with those – but, we need to keep pushing and get more cattle exported.”

Graham also highlighted the need for Ireland to gain beef market access to countries such as China.

There has been talk too that offal is worth €135/head – that’s a huge amount of money that could be going back to the farmers.

Farm safety was also a major concern for the incoming chairman, who said: “To help farmers out, there should be a few more incentives there. As can be seen over the last number of years, farming has become a very dangerous occupation.”

Graham explained that allowing TAMS grants for more safety equipment could be an option to help deal with threats relating to machinery and slurry.

Rural Development priorities

Seamus Sherlock managed to retain his position as the chair of the Rural Development Committee, following an election campaign against Sligo county chairman Gabriel Gilmartin.

Sherlock, who hails from Co. Limerick, outlined that Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) reform post-2020 – along with scheme payments under GLAS and ANCs – will be some of the priorities going forward.

“On a more personal level, financial stability for farmers, mental health, the vulture funds – they’ll be the kind of things coming down the road, I’d imagine,” he said.

While noting that there will be numerous other things on the horizon, Sherlock said: “Mental health in farming is a concern.

“There are a lot of farmers struggling alone. I speak at meetings all over the country and I try to get people to come out and speak to us – and, believe it or not, some weeks I could get 50 calls.

“It could be anything. It could be financial; it could be mental health; it could be non-payment of something – but, at least when they’re ringing, they’re reaching out. There’s help there if you reach out for it,” he said.

Sherlock said his objective was to “keep the lights on in rural Ireland“.

“The best way of keeping the lights on in rural Ireland is to keep the family farms alive. Because, they’re the people who spend the money; they’re the people that are sending the kids to school; they go to the shop, the pub and so on.

What’s going to replace them? Trees? Trees won’t keep the schools open. That’s my mantra going forward; to stay doing what I’m doing, maybe come up another gear and try to do more.

Rural crime is a major issue as well, the chairman noted.

“The big thing for me is to keep a connection between me and the family farm,” he concluded.