Following the IFA sheep farmers meeting in Tuam last night, IFA President Tim Cullinan said the income crisis facing sheep farmers has reached a critical stage and requires immediate action from the Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue.
The IFA President said sheep farming is a low-income vulnerable sector that does not have the capacity to absorb the volatility of the current market situation.
The sheep sector increased output by 10% in volume terms to 75,000t last year, increasing export value by 17% to €476m. Sheep farmers over the same period saw their margins decimated, falling by 81% to just €7/ewe, which includes the Sheep Welfare Scheme payment.
“Teagasc and Bord Bia expect similar input costs and market conditions for this year, leaving sheep farmers facing the prospect of €7/ewe return for the year, at best. This is not sustainable and can only be resolved by immediate direct intervention from the Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue,” he said.
Tim Cullinan said the Minister must provide targeted support of €30/ewe to sheep farmers by building on the supports already announced in the Sheep Improvement Scheme of €12/ewe for this year.
IFA Sheep Chairman Kevin Comiskey said the level of anger among farmers at the meeting with the Government’s failure to support the sector was plain for all to see, with sheep farmers prepared to take whatever action is necessary to save their livelihoods.
He said there is no hiding place for the Minister for Agriculture or his Government colleagues. Both Teagasc and Bord Bia have clearly set out the harsh reality of the income situation on sheep farms.
The IFA Sheep Chairman said the challenges facing the sector were pointed out last Spring to the Minister. No action was taken by him and sheep farmers paid a heavy price with incomes effectively wiped out, dropping by over 80% to €7/ewe through a combination of input cost increases and market failures.
“We are now facing into a similar, or even more challenging year, and the Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue must clearly set out what his intentions are for the sector. Farmers are asking if he’s prepared to stand up and be counted by directly supporting sheep farmers with €30/ewe and supports for farmers finishing store lambs, or does he expect sheep farmers to survive another year on €7,” he said.
Kevin Comiskey said sheep farming is the second largest farm sector in Ireland, carried out on 36,000 farms in some of the most difficult land type in the country.
He said the sheep sector plays a pivotal role in the socio-economic and environmental conditions of rural Ireland while producing food to the highest welfare and traceability standards.