The appointment of Hugh Farrell to the position of general secretary of the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association (ICSA) will not surprise too many.

The view among those in the know was that Farrell was best placed to take over the reins following Eddie Punch’s decision to have a tilt at the European Parliament.

“It was an obvious appointment, he’s a safe pair of hands,” one seasoned campaigner told The Dealer.

A suckler farmer from Ballyconnell in Cavan, Farrell certainly has plenty of experience to bring to the job.

Farrell cut his teeth with ICSA as a county chair, before moving on to head up the association’s animal health and welfare committee.

He now jumps the fence, as it were, to run the executive side of the association.

The Cavan man should be well capable of making the transition, but filling Punch’s boots will not be easy.

The Clare man was in the role for a quarter of a century and developed a reputation as a formidable operator.

Punch had an encyclopaedic knowledge of the meat business, and how the farm sector worked.

Similarly, he knew how the Department of Agriculture operated and the key personnel who made the important decisions.

Punch was not a one-man band – the organisation has a tidy team in its head office in Portlaoise – but, at the risk of abusing the musical analogy, he certainly would have to be classed as a multi-instrumentalist.

He was also a wily old operator, who had the good sense to give Beef Plan and its many splinter groups a wide berth during the 2019 beef protests.

That was not an easy task given the clamour among some in the ICSA for the organisation to embrace Beef Plan.

Primary focus

Farrell has already set out his stall and has insisted that his primary focus will be on growing the association’s membership.

However, in order to grow membership, Farrell will have to convince farmers that ICSA has a unique vision for the drystock sector.

That will not be a simple task.

It is far easier for the INHFA and the Irish Grain Growers Group to delineate themselves. The INHFA has the hills, while the grain growers’ focus is solely on tillage farmers.

Interestingly, both organisations also have a small cohort of policy anoraks who dissect regulations line by line and new scheme proposals from Brussels and Dublin.

If ICSA is realistic about growing its membership then Farrell and his team will have to outline to farmers how and why the association is different, and what it will deliver for the membership fee.