Co Westmeath drystock farmer Seán McNamara assumed the role of president of the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association (ICSA) on Thursday, as had been agreed after the association’s presidential election in 2022.

Former ICSA president Dermont Kelleher’s term ended after he led the organisation for the first leg of the two-year term split between himself and McNamara after the last presidential race had ended in a dead heat.

Speaking to members at the ICSA’s conference in Athlone, the new president expressed solidarity with farmers protesting across the continent.

McNamara stated that the issues which triggered farmers taking to the streets in countries including France, Belgium and the Netherlands resonated with Irish farmers.

Five policy areas

“Much like us in the ICSA, these farmers are seeking a fair price for their produce, less regulation and protection from cheaper imports from outside the EU,” he said in his first speech as the head of the drystock farmers group.

“We stand shoulder to shoulder with any farmer seeking basic fairness and freedom to farm, plain and simple.”

He laid out five policy areas which will be the focus of his efforts as president, with these being fair farm incomes, food security, dignity for farmers, land rights and progress of animal disease.

If the income of family farms is to be improved, guaranteed fair prices will be needed, McNamara commented, before calling for a minimum of €8/kg for lamb and €6/kg for beef over the coming year.

He insisted on “simple” farm schemes being put on the table to bolster incomes and criticised the limits put on farmer participation in schemes such as the Agri-Climate Rural Environment Scheme (ACRES).

“I will insist that any new scheme for sucklers or sheep has no tricky terms and conditions. No compulsory Bord Bia membership. No windfall for vets,” members heard.

“It is most frustrating that 28,000 ACRES scheme participants haven't received payments, sending a troubling message to committed farmers,” the new leader continued.

“This isn't just an administrative hiccup; it jeopardises trust, confidence and the ability to plan for a sustainable future - I am committed to addressing this issue urgently to ensure prompt payments.

“The arbitrary cap of 50,000 applicants hinders the growing interest in supporting environmental conservation.”

Suckler schemes

Recent changes to the Irish Cattle Breeding Federation’s (ICBF) beef indices came under fire from McNamara, as did the potential these changes have to hit farmers’ Suckler Carbon Efficiency Programme (SCEP) payments into the future.

He blasted the CAP suckler scheme as not being fit for purpose and accused those who drafted the scheme of being “blind to the fact that many suckler farmers are in the business of selling high-value weanlings”.

“A SCEP scheme that penalises farmers who get top price for export weanlings is not fit for purpose.

“And an ICBF that pushes Angus bulls for replacements in the suckler herd needs to ask itself serious questions.”