Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue has announced that €16m in direct payments will be issued to some 18,000 sheep farmers under the Sheep Welfare Scheme (SWS).

The payments are issuing under year five of the SWS and will be worth 85% of farmers' claims.

"These payments reflect the change to the reference year, bringing the reference year to the higher of either the farmer's existing reference number or their 2017 sheep census return.

"It will mean an increased payment for 11,500 farmers under the scheme.

"For those who joined as new entrants, the reference year is being updated to 2019,” the Minister said.

No-one will see their payment being reduced because of this change

Minister McConalogue also announced that 11,500 farmers will receive an increased payment as a result of the change to the reference year and "no-one will see their payment being reduced because of this change."

Minister McConalogue said: "The change to the reference year better reflects the level of activity on participants' farms given the passage of time since the introduction of the scheme in 2016.

"The extension of the scheme into 2022 and the change to the reference year reflects both my and this Government’s commitment to the long-term viability of our sheep sector.”

Financial boost

“These advance payments at a rate of 85% of the full annual payment are an important support to sheep farmers in the delivery of key welfare actions and provides a financial boost to the individual farmers and the wider rural economy," he said.

"The balancing payments for the scheme will issue in the second quarter of 2022."

The Minister also added that he has secured funding for an additional year of the SWS, which will open in February 2022 with an opportunity for "new entrants to sheep farming to join the scheme”.

He urged any farmers with outstanding queries to respond to the Department immediately in order to facilitate payment.