New ICMSA President sets out ‘to-do’ list

The new President of ICMSA, John Comer, has outlined his association’s priorities for the coming year and has pledged to ‘give everything’ he has in the cause of advancing the interests and welfare of farming families.

The new President of ICMSA, John Comer, has outlined his association’s priorities for the coming year and has pledged to ‘give everything’ he has in the cause of advancing the interests and welfare of farming families.

Mr Comer, who is the first president of the specialist dairy farmers’ organisation from the West of Ireland, has written to members of the ICMSA National Council setting out the areas where efforts and lobbying must be concentrated and where resources will be spent on protecting the interests of farm families as identified by ICMSA’s policy experts.

He has divided the work plan into two based on whether the issues come under a ‘European’ or ‘National’ heading and he has urged the association to concentrate immediately as the he feels the challenges will present themselves ‘thick and fast’.

Under the ‘European’ heading, and as the state’s chief dairy farmer organisation, Mr Comer anticipates that the EU legislation to replace the milk quota system – which has already reached an advanced state of negotiation – will be finalised this year. Its importance to Ireland cannot be overstated and ICMSA will be looking to see two fundamental requirements.

Firstly, there must be adequate market supports and market crisis management systems both of which must be designed to prevent any kind of the catastrophic dairy price collapse that occurred as recently as 2009. Secondly, and presuming that the Commission and Member States realise the necessity for the first requirement, there must be sufficient funds allocated for this purpose. According to Mr Comer, the case is relatively straightforward: we must have market support measures and a market support plan but we must also have the funds necessary to make those measures meaningful.

On CAP reform and Single Farm Payment, Mr Comer wants an immediate concentration on a solution to the problems arising from ‘base year’ and the land leasing question that follows that. He acknowledges that Minister Coveney appreciates the problem and he feels that progress is being made.

He has also stated bluntly that ICMSA wants both EU and Irish rules and regulations to favour ‘active’ farmers and he says that those individuals who break land leases should not gain SFP as a result. ICMSA has already sought legal opinion on this matter and will be investigating the legal situation in this area.

He also singled out the so-called ‘greening’ of the SFP and the role of permanent grassland in meeting any further moves on this direction as an issue on which ICMSA will concentrate and come forward with proposals.

ICMSA will also monitor the situation around the Nitrates Derogation and the association will set out the policy for a continuation or ‘roll-over’ of the derogation at the opportune time.

On the ‘national’ scene, Mr Comer noted the success of ICMSA in terms of the arguments advanced on capital taxation and family farm transfer. But he did express concern about plans to implement any form of capital asset test for eligibility for Third Level grants. This would be grossly unfair on farm families and ICMSA would insist that eligibility would continue to be tested on the basis of income – as presently.

The association will be having a meeting with the Minister of Education on the matter. On the question of environmental matters – and specifically, septic tanks – Mr Comer said that from a farmer’s point of view that probably not enough attention had been given to the standard required of a given septic tank system.

Once that standard has been identified and a proper grant scheme has been set up to offset the costs, the matter should be much more amenable to solution.

Mr Comer ended an already packed worksheet with special mention of seasonality schemes, animal health and disease and the cost of inputs.

“I can guarantee every member of ICMSA – and indeed, the wider farming community – that we’ll continue to work solidly on their behalf and concentrate on bringing forward the solutions that are usually there if the work and research is done. That’s our role and that’s our heritage: we concentrate on solutions”, concluded the new President.