A Bailieborough dairy farmer is set to become the next deputy president of the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association (ICMSA).
Lorcan McCabe put his name forward for the deputy post at the ICMSA AGM last month, and with the deadline for nominations passing on Friday afternoon, no one else threw their flatcaps into the ring.
President elect, Patrick McCormack also enjoyed a clear run to replace John Comer.
“He’s a great man for the job,” said Lorcan of Patrick. He said that his admiration for Patrick was one of the reasons behind his decision against entering the race for the association’s top post. However, he’s open about his intention to become the next ICMSA president.
He added: “It would be great to have either three years or six years as deputy president to get to know all the people in power and grow into the role.
“I have no doubt I will go for the presidency in either three or six years’ time,”
Married to Bríd, and a father of four, Lorcan milks 70 cows at his 100 acre farm in Edenagully outside Bailieborough.
Lorcan’s eldest Laura works for PWC, going on to be a chartered accountant. Sean is a third year Business and finance third year in DCU, and is set to progress to PWC. Another daughter Andrea, just turned 18 is doing her Leaving Cert, and Shannon is 16 and in her fifth year of secondary school.
Lorcan predicts an issue which was the focus of a Cavan ICMSA meeting held last month will continue to loom large for farmers into the future.
“One of the biggest problems going forward is, I think 50% of farmers can’t find a successor.”
Lorcan’s circumstances means he may have a personal insight into the issue.
“It’s a huge concern of mine,” he says whose family has been on the farm for at least seven generations. “I would hate to be the last, but I am very open minded... As it looks, when they are qualified, the wet hills of Cavan won’t be as attractive as maybe a plush office.”
Lorcan says his eldest daughter has expressed an interest in managing it, and employ someone to carry out the farm work. Having left school at 14 out of necessity, he prioritises education for his children.
“If it came to the bit, I’d sell the cows to give them their proper education – that’s how important I consider education.Whatever needs to be done, will be done, and then they can decide to farm or do whatever.”
Looking at the wider farming landscape, post-quotas he accepts that the decreasing number of farmers, and operating on larger farms is “of huge concern.”
“There’s nothing wrong with the same trend of small farms getting bigger, but I’d be very concerned that the pace [of change] is speeding up horrendously.”
He claimed that presistent advice from some quarters to expand is misplaced: “‘You must have 150 cows – you must expand, you must do this’. In some cases expansion would cripple farmers with debt.”
He adds: “We’ve seen people milking 60-80 cows doing relatively well, expanding rapidly into 150 cows and are actually worse off now than they were with their 70-80 cows because they have loans, and they have no time – they’re extraordinarily busy working. There is a happy medium.”
The Celt asks how many cattle do you now need to earn a “reasonable living”?
“I get this question all of the time at meetings,” he acknowledges. He observes that in non-farming families, the trend has been for many homes from 30 years ago having just one person working to now having two people working rather.
“There is no difference. If one of the couple is working outside the home and the farm is relatively debt free, on 50-70 cows there’s a reasonable living to be made – if you go under 50 cows, I believe it’s essential to have one other person working. People may not like that but the whole of society has to deal with that – not only farmers.”
Lorcan, who was chairperson of the ICMSA’s business committee for the last six years believes more farmers could continue full time with a “fairer” tax regime. He notes that Government ministers have it “in their gift to have it a lot more tax efficient for farmers to develop.”
“If we could get a taxation right for a normal family farm as opposed to a company, a fairer capital allowance, some type of farm management deposit scheme where in a good year you could put money aside and take it back in a bad year – I firmly believe there’s a living for someone farming fifty cows. That’s not to say people under that won’t survive, but they will have to be a lot more challenged.
“We don’t want to go like England and Scotland where you have 1,000 acres with 800 cows and I run a bus into Cavan Town and take out three or four people to work.
“I firmly believe the tax structure has to be made to suit the family farm a lot better, and that would be one of my priorities.”
Another priority is to focus on the anomoly: “I can lease the farm to you tax free, but I can’t to my son or daughter.”
He believes that, in the absence of an Early Retirement Scheme, if that issue could be resolved it would help, not just the farming community, but the economy.
“If you have someone heading for 60, the fire has gone out of their belly at this stage whereas the young person of 25 or 26, they are going to push that farm. So whatever little bit the State would lose on tax exemptions for the older farmer, they would more than make it up in return revenue from the younger person.”
In terms of the ICMSA’s standing, the Celt asks Lorcan if he would accept that they are the poor relation of the IFA?
“I wouldn’t accept that. For the income we get, we have more bang for our buck, there’s no question about that,” he says accepting the IFA are a bigger organisation.
The Celt contends the IFA would have more weight behind their lobbying given the huge numbers they represent.
“They spend an awful lot more money on media exposure etc, but I feel we do the same, meeting co-ops or ministers.”
He also points out that there is no potential conflict of interest in the sectors which they represent.
“We are focussed on dairying, beef and sheep, nothing else. There’s no conflict in us - how can you represent a beef farmer and a grain farmer? The beef farmers and dairy farmers want cheap feed to feed their cows, and the grain farmer wants dear grain.”
He stresses that he has a good working relationship with IFA representatives, and with regards to merging the two groups, he observes: “I’d say absolutely not – isn’t it far better that there’s two organisations, or whatever, banging on someone’s door than one?”