There is no hiding place for Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue on the supports needed for sheep farmers grappling with an income crisis, the Irish Farmers' Association (IFA) has warned.
IFA sheep chair Kevin Comiskey called on Minister McConalogue to come forward with a strong package of direct supports for the sheep sector in Budget 2024.
Comiskey said that the IFA has consistently highlighted the struggle of sheep farmers to the Minister and his officials and warned that sheep farmers are now anxiously watching this year’s budget to see if the words of support for the sector translate into meaningful funding commitments.
“Margins on sheep farms dropped over 80% last year to just €7/ewe, with weak markets to date this year taking a further €11m directly from sheep farmers' pockets as prices to date average almost 30c/kg behind last year’s levels,” the IFA sheep chair highlighted.
Comiskey noted that hill sheep farmers have had a particularly challenging two years, as store finishers grapple with high input costs and low market returns.
He said the IFA has put comprehensive proposals to the Minister and his officials to build payments to €30/ewe, while also supporting the store lamb trade.
“Costings in the Sheep Improvement Scheme must be revised to reflect the costs of compliance with the scheme for farmers.
"The genotype ram action in particular is costing farmers €200 to €300 more in the price they have had to pay for scheme-eligible rams. The additional €2/ewe the Minister provided for this measure in the scheme is not adequate and must be increased,” he urged.
Comiskey also highlighted that sheep farmers have carried the impact of the collapsed wool market with no recognition from Government, describing this as “unacceptable” and something which must be addressed.
“If the full benefits and value of this product are to be developed, then farmers must be directly supported for the costs associated with shearing and presenting wool in optimum condition to reduce the costs associated with preparing the product for further processing.
“[The] IFA [is] calling for a payment of €8/ewe for farmers to offset the costs and labour associated with shearing and presenting wool,” he said.
Furthermore, the IFA sheep chair said that sheep dipping is “extremely labour intensive and expensive”, yet this is recognised as the most effective way to deal with issues such as sheep scab which is becoming a problem on an increasing number of sheep farms.
The IFA called for sheep farmers to be supported for carrying out this important animal health and welfare measure on farms with €10/ewe payment.