The fifth year of the Sheep Welfare Scheme will commence on 1 February 2021, Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue has confirmed.

The Department of Agriculture has requested a change to the reference period from the current date to the proposed reference year of 2017.

Existing participants in the scheme will be automatically enrolled and will not need to take any action should they wish to remain in the scheme.

Applications for participation in the scheme are now being accepted from new entrants.

Expanding flock

The extension of the scheme will require an amendment to Ireland’s Rural Development Programme, which will have to be notified to the EU Commission.

Minister McConalogue said: “I was very pleased to be able to secure €17m in funding in the Budget 2021 process to extend the scheme for a fifth year as we enter the transitionary period ahead of the introduction of the new CAP.

“Updating the reference year from the current date to the proposed reference year of 2017 is an important step in supporting progressive and expanding sheep farmers.”

New entrants

The Department has urged all eligible new entrants who wish to participate in the scheme to return their forms by 1 February.

Application forms are available by contacting the Sheep Welfare Scheme section of the Department by email at

A new entrant to sheep farming is defined as an applicant who has applied for a new herd number in the period 1 January to the 31 December in the year preceding the scheme year.

An applicant with an existing herd number who has not held or traded in sheep for a two-year period up to 31 October preceding the scheme year is also eligible.

Show of support

IFA sheep chairman Sean Dennehy has said updating the reference period is an important first step in aligning the scheme more closely with the levels of activity on farms and building towards a €30/ewe scheme in the next CAP.

Dennehy said: “It’s crucial that the scheme reflects the level of activity on farms by recognising progressive sheep farmers who have built their numbers since the original reference period of 2014 to 2015.

“IFA made a strong case to the Minister to have the reference period updated and the acceptance of this is a strong signal of support for the sheep sector and is very important in the context of generational renewal.”