Minister Cowen has his new job outlined for him by farming reps

If Barry Cowen wondered what would be on his to-do list as he took up his new role as Minister for Agriculture, there was no shortage of voices to help organise his priorities.

In a tweet the senior Fianna Fáil figure admitted to having experienced emotions "betwixt and between privileged, excited, delighted, nervous, worried and proud".

He takes over from Minister Michael Creed, who over saw the department during a period the enduring image of which is likely to be the turmoil in the beleaguered beef sector, protests outside factories, and tractors blocking the centre of Dublin.

That beef sector will remain among the new minister's top priorities as IFA President Tim Cullinan, congratulating Minister Cowen on his appointment, proceeded to stress the "pressing need" to get the €50m in funding for beef farmers out quickly.

Mr Culinan noted the average farm income of €23,467, with direct payments comprising 77% of that.

“The average income on suckler farms was less than €10,000, for beef finishers it’s €13,893 with the sheep average being €14,604 and tillage incomes fell 15% to €34,437,” he said.

Other key issues flagged "as urgent and critical issues for the new Government" by Mr Cullinan included the CAP Budget, Brexit and the new Climate Bill.

Possibly with an eye to the appointment of the Green Party's Senator Pippa Hackett as a super Junior Minister with responsibility for Land Use Management and Biodiversity, Mr Cullinan never the less directed the following statement to Minister Cowen: “The new Minister has to be clear that farming is a commercial activity and that the economic sustainability of farmers is at the centre of the sustainability debate,” he said.

“This Minister has a huge task as farmers are frustrated with what they perceive to be fundamental unfairness in the food chain. They are being asked to do more and more for less return as processors and retailers maximise their profits at the expense of farmers,” he said.

“In this regard, the creation of the new Food Ombudsman will be vital. This new body must have the scope to regulate the full food chain and have real powers to ensure a fair share of the retail price gets back to farmers,” he said.

Of Senator Pippa Hackett's appointment Tim Cullinan promised: “We will work constructively to achieve the dual outcomes of food production and climate action with Minister Hackett,” he said.

The ICSA president Edmond Phelan also offered his congratulations to Minister Cowen, and proceeded to inform him what his new job entails.

“First and foremost, the Minister must deliver total transparency in the food chain and ensure that neither processor nor retailer can abuse their dominant positions. To this end ICSA is insisting the promised Food Ombudsman is installed without delay.”

Mr Phelan continued: “A new REPS type scheme is also a must. ICSA is calling for a trebling of the current GLAS budget to facilitate such a scheme, given the numbers of farmers it would hope to attract. An annual budget of €750m, or three times the current GLAS budget, would be the minimum required. It is no longer acceptable to expect farmers to do more on climate change without the resources to do so.”

On beef, the Mr Phelan says:

“ICSA is adamant that a suckler based application for EU Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) is vital for the survival of that sector. Suckler beef must be developed and promoted as a special high value product, and ICSA will be vigorously opposing the inclusion of all beef in the pursuit of such a protected status,” he said, also adding thatroom needed to be made on the "top of the agenda" for a new and improved Sheep Welfare Scheme.

Of Pippa Hackett's new role, Mr Phelan said: “The creation of this role is an important move as the issues around land use and biodiversity become ever more central to the farming debate, in particular with regard to the EU Farm to Fork and Green Deal strategies.

“We in ICSA look forward to working closely with Minister Hackett over the coming months and years.”

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