“Putting a share of the profits back into the farmers’ pockets is number one,” says Hugh Farrell of the main thrust of his pitch to claim the top spot in the ICSA.
This Thursday will see the Cavan man vie with Dermot Kelleher, a suckler farmer from West Cork and Edmond Phelan, a beef farmer from Co Waterford for the association’s presidency.
Mr Farrell is currently the chair of ICSA’s Animal Health & Welfare committee, however understandably given the crisis facing the sector that it’s the health and welfare of farmers’ bank balances that he has focussed on in his campaign.
He says that between the supermarkets, wholesalers, and factories money is being made from the beef trade. He’s eager to identify where in the chain there’s most scope for farmers to extract a fairer cut.
“We have to get a share of that – instead of taking the rap all the time at the bottom, and get a bit of confidence back into the industry because it’s so disheartening listening to people and the way it’s gone, and wondering are they going to feed cattle over the winter, what are they doing.”
He also flagged the sitka forestry controversy that’s causing such ill feeling a cone’s throw over the county boundary in Leitrim.
“Is that something we’re inviting on our own door?” he wonders.
Given the extent of the crisis in beef, the Celt asks if his voice as president could make any difference?
“We will make a difference,” insists Hugh. “It’s going to take a little bit of hard work to be honest with you.”
He says the bureaucracy associated with Ireland’s inspection regimes could be loosened as a first step.
“We’re the tightest in Europe,” he claims of the regulations.
Meanwhile he claims there’s meat beef reared in Poland, and sheep meat reared in the North and Britain that’s processed in the Republic, and labelled in a way that consumers could interpret as being actually reared in the 26 counties.
“This is where we have to stand up for ourselves and be counted for once – because industry were able to put us where they wanted to for a long time and we need to change that.”
These issues and more are all echoed by the Beef Plan Movement which emerged from mass farmer discontent last year – are they not treading on each others toes?
“We’re an association,” asserts Hugh, “tomorrow for instance example, I’m sitting at a TB Forum in Dublin – they can’t get on that. So that’s the difference between us and them, going into the department level negotiations.”
He’s dismissive of the IFA’s lobbying power on behalf of beef producers, pointing to their work also representing the dairy sector.
“We’re the only ones who take it on seriously,” he claimed of their stance on beef.
Speaking to The Anglo-Celt on Monday evening, he also flagged the threat posed by Brexit looming over us in September and October.
“It’s a big issue of where we’re going with that too, and the border. You seen what happened in Clones yesterday [bomb alert in Wattlebridge] - they’re not days we want to return to or remember. We want to move forward in a positive way.”
Whether Hugh will be the president to chart the ICSA’s way forward will be decided in Portlaoise on Thursday. Winning the job will be tough as he’s up against two stalwarts: Mr Kelleher is currently ICSA Vice President for Munster, having previously served as chair of the association’s suckler committee; while Mr Phelan is a former ICSA beef chair, a role he held for six years.
“It’s a three way race. We’d all like to think we’re in with a good shot. It’s hard to tell, talking to people you feel like you’re getting on well, but it depends if it’s a real good day and people have work to do, so turn out’s number one.”
Proceedings on the night will begin at 7.30pm. Each candidate will make a presentation to the association’s National Executive which will be followed by a panel discussion and a Q & A session with the candidates. The vote will follow, with a result expected at 9pm.