Call for sheep farmers to be given €4m top-up to restore income level

Sheep farmers should be given a top-up payment of €4m to restore their prior income level, Oireachtas members have told the IFA.

Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney has met with the body to explain his reasons for a proposal to subsume the former Sheep Grassland Payment into the Single Farm Payment.

The IFA wants any future sheep payments to be retained at their prior €18m value, rather than the €14m total under the revised plan.

The minister told the IFA deputation he would consider any proposals put forward to protect Irish sheep farmers, but that coupled payments were not an option. The IFA then met with the joint committee of Agriculture, Food, and the Marine to seek its support for retaining sheep sector payments.

Roscommon-South Leitrim TD, Denis Naughten, said: “Kepak have closed their sheep facility at Hacketstown due to the falling number of sheep, and the situation will just get worse unless we do something to protect the sector.”

The Fine Gael TD said the minister had addressed why the new CAP reforms dictated that sheep payments could not be coupled, but he said a top-up payment of €4m should still be possible.

Oireachtas committee chairman, Andrew Doyle said: “I think there is a value in what Deputy Naughton said in relation to adding a top-up payment.”

IFA national livestock chairman, Kevin Kinsella, welcomed the support for sheep farmers, but said the IFA does not want to see monies moved into pillar one if it means taking funds away from pillar two schemes like the Sheep Technology Adoption Programme, as suggested by Senator Pat O’Neill.

“We are trying to find the best way of retaining as much of the sheep grassland payment in pillar one,” said Mr Kinsella. “Our first position in the CAP reform debate was to have a strong coupled payment for the sheep sector, like France which has a €20 per ewe coupled payment.

“But the minister has made it clear he is not going down that route. We have to accept that that bus has moved on. He says he must treat everybody the same under convergence. We are seeking to retain the sheep grassland payment.”

IFA national sheep committee chairman, John Lynskey, told the Dáil committee that for farmers above the average Single Farm Payment, the sheep grassland portion of their payment will be eroded over time up to 2019 as payments are converged downwards.

For farmers with lower Single Farm Payments, the value of the sheep grassland payment will also be eroded as their payments move up towards the average. Mr Lynskey said the minister had accepted that were problems for sheep farmers with the convergence proposal and said he would re-examine it.

Mr Lynskey also cited figures from the 2012 Teagasc National Farm Survey showing sheep farmer incomes at just over €18,000 per annum.

The IFA sheep chairman said the sector has come through some very tough times. In the last two major reforms of the CAP, the sheep sector was badly short changed. In the first Fischler CAP reform, sheep lost out with a low ewe premium.

In addition, sheep was also overlooked for extensification premium payments. In 2005 under decoupling, this problem was ingrained in the system with sheep farmers ending up with generally low direct payments.

In 2010, the Sheep Grassland Scheme was introduced, valued at €18m per annum. This move halted the decline in ewe numbers and helped to restore some confidence at farm level.

However, the latest CSO data for December 2013 show a reduction in sheep numbers, back 3.1% on December 2012 levels. The breeding flock is back 1.2% or 30,000 ewes.

The Sheep Grassland Scheme was cut in the 2012 budget from €18m down to €14m for 2013, with €3m transferred to the Sheep Technology Adoption Programme scheme.

Payments at farm level reduced from about €8.50 per ewe to €6.35. Under Food Harvest 2020, the Government has set down a growth target of 20% in output value by 2020.

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