New ICSA leader expects major changes in dairy

Wexford farmer Patrick Kent was elected president of the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association last week, defeating outgoing president Gabriel Gilmartin of Sligo in a keenly contested election.

Mr Kent runs a medium-sized suckler and sheep farm at New Ross, in Co Wexford, alongside a Belgian Blue breeding enterprise.

Mr Kent will take up the reins at the ICSA AGM and Annual Conference early next year.

How does ending of EU milk quotas in 2015 change the landscape for cattle and sheep farmers?

“There will undoubtedly be changes on the back of milk quota abolition for cattle and sheep farmers. The price of land and conacre for drystock farmers operating in close proximity to dairy farmers will be an issue, with dairy farmers in a far better position in terms of access to credit, putting them at a serious advantage in terms of bidding power.

“I also see an issue arising in terms of beef production in particular. We may well see a reduction in the number of quality beef animals being produced in Ireland as a result of the increased numbers of New Zealand Kiwi/Jersey and Holsteins coming from dairy herds.”

The other game changer in the offing is the CAP reform. What would your ideal version of implementation in Ireland be?

“The ideal implementation would be where full-time, productive family farms would be prioritised as they give the most commitment to the industry and are most dependent on it, but there are going to be winners and losers in this round. I haven’t met too many winners but I’ve been speaking to a lot of net losers, indeed I am in that category myself.”

How would large-scale drystock farmers with high entitlements per hectare react if their single farm payment is cut 30% in CAP reform?

“They may react by scaling down their operations, they may also try to maintain or improve profit margins by reducing costs and that includes bringing less money to the ringside for weanlings. From what I can see, there are actually many farmers outside of the ‘large-scale’ category being cut up to 30% and the reaction is not positive — people are hurting, including myself, as it looks like I’ll be a net loser to the tune of 30%, despite not being a large scale farmer.”

How can younger and new entrant farmers be persuaded to stay in drystock farming?

“The key is improving incomes. If they see their contemporaries with easier lifestyles and better pay in a different industry, it’ll be difficult to keep young people in drystock farming. Young farmers are very savvy when it comes to the bottom line and if they don’t see the return they simply won’t stay in the industry. This is an issue that should be of concern to all stakeholders in the agri sector. What we need to see is a combination of income supports for new entrants and young farmers, and crucially we need action from all sides to improve prices in the marketplace for their produce.”

There are about 7% fewer suckler calves now. Your predecessor said long-term effects of the fodder crisis will continue into 2014. Will the suckler enterprise shrink further?

“Undoubtedly the suckler industry is under huge pressure. Costs have increased without a corresponding increase in the price of the weanling, and there is a very strong possibility the number of calves born to beef cows will shrink further unless action is taken on a number of fronts. Of vital importance will be to ensure something is done about live exports. Without a vibrant live export trade the suckler industry will remain under pressure. We also need to see a clear commitment to support incomes through robust schemes and ultimately we need to see a greater proportion of the consumer spend coming back to the suckler farmer.”

How difficult is the situation for many bull beef farmers?

“It is massively difficult in that it is a very high-input system and if there is a hold-up in the slaughtering of those animals as we have seen in recent times, it leads to increased costs to the point where producers are seeing negative incomes. We are also dealing with cuts as a result of age and weight restrictions and as far as I can see, it is a game being played by the meat industry to get cheap beef. There is also the reality that Irish beef farmers get a far smaller proportion of what the consumer spends on the final product compared to the farmer in the UK and in Italy. It’s leading farmers to despair about continuing in that enterprise.

“I would add that it’s very apparent that we farmers are now paying for the horsemeat scandal. Compliance needs to be pointed back to the meat industry, not farmers, to address the imbalance between over-regulation at farm level and insufficient regulation at processor level.”

What has been the impact on farmers of the TLT International receivership?

>>“The decisions being taken on farms may now be influenced as a result of the collapse and resulting uncertainty in the live export business, and there is a question of whether suckler farmers are reconsidering their commitment to the industry.

“It has highlighted our dependence on live exports to maintain a premium price for high quality weanlings but it’s also highlighted that the other players in the live export industry need to be supported. The collapse of TLT was a result of a lack of commitment here and the necessity of sourcing credit abroad. It has also become apparent that the company would have benefited from examinership as opposed to receivership so that lesson needs to be learned.”


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