THE Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers' Association president, Gabriel Gilmartin, is challenging the Government to step up to the plate and show it means what it says about increasing exports from the agri-food sector.
Speaking at the ICSA's recent annual conference, Mr Gilmartin said "actions speak louder than words," questioning the Government's commitment to the agricultural expansion targets set out in the Food Harvest 2020 report.
He welcomed diplomatic initiatives to open up the Chinese market, and pointed to possible opportunities in Russia also. However, he emphasised that the Government needs to support farmers as the main driver in this export expansion and said that the cuts made to farming in the budget show that the Government's commitment to the sector is not as strong as the "fine words."
"The end of the Suckler Cow Welfare Scheme represents a huge blow to the sector and displays a shortsighted approach at best from the Government. Cuts to the Disadvantaged Area Scheme will hit those who can least afford it, particularly in the West of Ireland. Increases in Capital Gains Tax will hit family farm transfers quite hard – and that's no good if you want young farmers to take over the family farm and boost production."
Mr Gilmartin also said Pillar Two rural development funding should be targeted at the most disadvantaged farmers. "The Disadvantaged Area Scheme and agri-environment schemes need to deliver better payments to those who need it most."
The ICSA leader also expressed concern about the CAP reform negotiations and said expansion will be dependent on securing a new regime that is right for Ireland.
"If we get the CAP deal right, we can still go some way to achieving the targets of Food Harvest 2020. ICSA is working hard to secure a CAP deal that's right for Ireland and the other 26 member states, that gives confidence to our primary producers to ramp up production and is fair to the young farmers and other active, productive farmers who weren't dealt a fair hand in the last CAP reform."