Farmers seek establishment of sheep taskforce to address 'deepening crisis' in sector

Falling prices and rising costs are placing "huge pressure" on farmers.
Farmers seek establishment of sheep taskforce to address 'deepening crisis' in sector

Farmers are seeking the establishment of a sheep taskforce to address the ongoing fall in lamb prices and to develop a medium to long-term plan for the sheep sector. 

The Irish Natura and Hill Farmers Association has written to Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue seeking this taskforce, and president Vincent Roddy has stressed the need for parties across the sector to work together in developing a plan that can deliver for farmers.

"Any stakeholder group needs to be driven by the Department of Agriculture and include farmer representation through the relevant farming bodies, involvement from processors, and involvement from other bodies such as Bord Bia, Teagasc, ACA, and ICOS," Mr Roddy said.

While recognising that the immediate urgency relates to the current price of lamb, any such taskforce "should cover additional factors relating to the sheep sector such as dog control, price of wool and the increasing problem of sheep theft". 

In the letter to Mr McConalogue, the association identified the following factors: 

  • Current lamb price and prospects for spring 2023, including possible market opportunities;
  • Medium to long-term sheep price with a focus on existing and new markets and availability of stock;
  • EU and international trade agreements;
  • Possible support through EU Exceptional Aid Fund;
  • Sheep Improvement Scheme and relevant health/welfare issues;
  • Sheep worrying and control of dogs;
  • Wool.

With an ongoing fall in the price of lamb, Mr Roddy cautioned how this could well impact the price of store lambs next autumn and stressed the need for processors to reevaluate their quotes.

In addition to this, he also called on the co-ops and merchants to look again at the price of their meal with a view to an immediate reduction.

"It is in their medium to long-term interests to support these farmers or many of them may not be here to buy their meal next year," he said.

Holding back lambs

Meanwhile, Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers Association sheep chair Sean McNamara has advised farmers that they now "have a chance to get tougher" in demanding higher sheep prices. 

"Factories are struggling to get lambs and prices are edging upwards," Mr McNamara said.

"Last week I and other ICSA sheep farmers held back our lambs in a stand against the absurdly low prices the factories were quoting. 

"The factories were offering prices way below the cost of production, so a decision was made not to sell. 

"I understand that it’s not easy for farmers feeding sheep expensive meal but there are good signs now that prices will move upwards," he added.

Public meeting for sheep farmers

The Irish Farmers' Association held a public meeting for sheep farmers in Athlone on Monday to discuss the falling prices and rising costs placing "huge pressure" on farmers.

“Input costs on sheep farms have increased in the past 12 months by over 40% and sheep farmers do not have the capacity to absorb this increase which has eroded the income levels in an extremely vulnerable sector,” IFA president Tim Cullinan said.

IFA sheep chair Kevin Comiskey said that farmers are becoming increasingly unviable with current prices, along with the failure of Government to provide "meaningful direct supports".

“There is real concern within the sector for the spring trade and action needs to be taken immediately to support farmers to maintain a year-round supply of lamb," Mr Comiskey added.

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