FARMER Eddie Downey has been elected 14th president of the Irish Farmers Association (IFA) after he saw off the challenge of Laois native Jer Bergin.
The tillage, drystock and poultry farmer from Monknewtown, Slane, Co Meath, had 300 votes to spare over his challenger, winning by 1,079to 779.
Mr Downey farms 140 acres of tillage, beef and broiler breeding poultry. The 51-year-old is currently the IFA deputy president and Meath county chairman. IFA insiders said Mr Downey's term as deputy president had been crucial in the overall result as it gave him the opportunity to build support networks across the country.
He took majority votes even in dairy areas such as Limerick and north Cork, where Mr Bergin had been expected to do well.
His campaign was based around better returns for farmers from retailers, greater exchequer support for essential farm schemes and the streamlining of the number of farm inspections by authorities.
Mr Downey said the challenges facing farming were huge. He said a range of schemes aimed at supporting farmer incomes had been scrapped as a result of the financial crisis.
Irish agriculture was in the process of rebuilding but farmers needed to be sure that the foundations were solid, he said.
Mr Downey said the Government needed to ensure that exchequer co-funding for the CAP rural development programme was maximised.
He said such a move would allow for a decent environmental scheme for farmers working on marginal and wet land. He also called for a special suckler payment to be targeted to support the beef sector.
Mr Downey also criticised the actions of the supermarkets for cutting returns to vegetable growers during the most important period of the year for them.
The move, he said, was motivated by an effort to increase footfall in supermarkets.
Describing the policy as "unacceptable", Mr Downey said supermarkets could sell brushes or sell "loo paper cheaply" but he warned them "not to sell food short".
The newly elected farm leader thanked his wife Mary and their two children, Alice (22) and Patrick (19), for their support through a campaign that he said had taken him to every corner of the country.
He claimed that Mary was among his best canvassers in that he won in every branch she had contacted.
However, pride of place on the night went to his 89-year-old mother Josephine, who he introduced to the crowd.
He said it would also have been a proud day for his father, who had blocked bridges in Meath during the farmers' strike in 1966.
Mr Downey will take over the leadership of the IFA from outgoing president John Bryan in January.
Meanwhile, in a surprise result, Cork dairy farmer Tim O'Leary defeated JJ Kavanagh from Wexford to be elected deputy president of the IFA.