The ICSA has called on Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue to introduce a rescue package in the form of emergency aid to help the “beleaguered” sheep sector.
“They also need additional funds locked into the Sheep Improvement Scheme to increase the payment per ewe to €35/hd,” said ICSA Sheep Chair Sean McNamara.
“The sector is in crisis and the financial losses of sheep farmers are mounting. When beef farmers — and more recently pig farmers — were in similar loss-making positions, emergency aid was secured.
“The same must be done for sheep farmers now. The livelihoods of sheep farmers are no less important than those operating in the beef or pig sectors.”
ICSA is proposing emergency aid at a level of €20/hd up to a maximum of 500 head of lambs that have been sold at significantly reduced prices over the period of August 2022 to February 2023.
Mr McNamara said conditionality must be kept to an absolute minimum in the delivery of this exceptional aid.
“We saw the difficulties beef farmers faced trying to meet overly complex terms and conditions in the BEAM Scheme,” he said.
“However, pig farmers had little or no conditionality attached to their aid payments and this must be the model adopted when it comes to any future exceptional aid payments.
“Extra exchequer funding must also be channelled into the Sheep Improvement Scheme so that the payment on offer can be increased to €35/hd per breeding ewe; €12/hd is too low and it will not have any meaningful impact when it comes to keeping sheep farmers viable.”
Mr McNamara added that some of the problems are linked to New Zealand lamb imports, which, in some ways, is a legacy Brexit issue and he suggested that the Brexit Adjustment Reserve should be tapped for the sector.
And he reiterated his call for the immediate convening of the Sheep Vision Group.
“There is a crisis in the sheep sector and it needs to addressed,” he said. “Minister McConalogue can play his part through facilitating an exceptional aid payment and improving the Sheep Improvement Scheme, but we also need to see action from the meat industry, from retailers and from Bord Bia.
“The Sheep Vision Group is the forum to tackle all the issues in the sector — we need to see it up and running.”