The new reference year for the Sheep Welfare Scheme will maximise the number of animals that qualify for payments, Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue told last week’s INHFA annual general meeting.
“My objective is to choose a reference year that maximises the number of sheep that it will be paid on,” Minister McConalogue told the meeting.
“It has to be retrospective, it can’t be on a rolling basis,” he added.
There will have to be some flexibility with regard to the reference year to facilitate young farmers who are increasing their flock, the Minister added. However, he did not give a likely timeline for announcing the new reference year.
Asked if he would consider dipping and clipping as two additional welfare options in an expanded Sheep Welfare Scheme – with a payment rate of €20/head – Minister McConalogue said he was “open to ideas” but that it would depend on the level of co-funding for Pillar II delivered by the Government.
Food policy to blame
Meanwhile, the INHFA’s new president Vincent Roddy blamed Europe’s cheap food policy for the flight of young people from farming.
“A stagnant CAP budget in recent times has contributed to the fall in incomes and the ongoing exodus from the land,” he said.
“If Europe wants to continue with a cheap food policy while demanding higher environmental ambition, they need to face the reality that the CAP budget will need to increase dramatically,” Roddy said.
On forestry, Roddy said the historic dependence on Sitka spruce had to be revisited. The INHFA called for the afforestation programme to be limited to “genuine farmers” who have farmed the land for a minimum of five years.