There have been calls for clarity on the future of the Sheep Welfare Scheme, which is due to end on 31 January 2021.
Now into its fourth and originally planned for final year, Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers Association (ICSA) sheep chair Sean McNamara said farmers needed to know if the scheme would be extended.
“Preparations are already under way for next year’s lambing season and there has been no word on [whether] the scheme will be rolled over into next year,” he pointed out.
“Sheep farmers are none the wiser as to whether or not to include tasks relevant to the scheme in those preparations and this needs to be addressed immediately,” he said.
The scheme provides a payment of €10/ewe and has an annual budget in the region of €18m.
“With margins so tight and with no Brexit or COVID-related aid forthcoming for the sector, sheep farmers are finding it tougher than ever.
"Now we have been left to operate in a complete vacuum of information on the Sheep Welfare Scheme,” McNamara said.
The current CAP was due to end this year, but a replacement farm policy has not yet been agreed.
It means transitional regulations, which will consist of a new budget for existing CAP rules, will apply for at least one or two years.
All rural development schemes, including the Sheep Welfare Scheme, face an uncertain few months.
For the current scheme year, the ICSA is seeking a top-up payment for sheep farmers from any unused money in the Department’s various budgets.
“We have been at the back of the queue for too long,” McNamara said.
In the next CAP, he is seeking the payment to be increased to €30/ewe.
“The scheme has worked well, so the foundation is there to build on that and offer sheep farmers a greater financial dividend for undertaking additional tasks.
“In the interim however, we need the scheme to roll over into 2021 and for all avenues of providing additional financial support to sheep farmers to be explored.”