The reference year for the Sheep Welfare Scheme should be 2020 or possibly the average of 2019 and 2020, Irish Natura and Hill Farmers Association has said.

The comments came following the announcement by Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue that he will seek an amendment to Ireland's Rural Development Plan for the scheme's reference year.

Better support

INHFA president Colm O’Donnell welcomed the announcement but warned that a reference year of 2017 will fall short of farmers' needs.

“Since the scheme commenced in 2016 farmers have seen a significant change in their initial reference numbers which was based on the farmer's average flock numbers from 2014 and 2015.

“In adopting an up to date reference year, we can ensure better support for the many young farmers and new entrants that have increased their stock numbers and work towards ensuring as much of the allocated budget of €25m is used.”

The INHFA has said the Minister must recognise that a 2017 reference year will deliver little in terms of additional income for the sector and called for support towards a reference year of 2020.