New CAP strictures leave sheep farmers on edge

John Lynskey, IFA National Sheep chairman, says subsuming the grassland payment into the baseline SFP figure has de-incentivised sheep farmers.

Q&A: John Lynskey
Earlier this year, Mayo farmer, John Lynskey, was elected chairman of the IFA national sheep committee.

John farms 45 hectares along the Mayo/Galway border.

His main enterprise is sheep; he farms a flock of 170 Suffolk/Texel/Belclare cross ewes. He also keeps suckler cows and an area of tillage, as well as running an agricultural contracting business.

The role of the chairman of the IFA national sheep committee is “dealing with, and representing, sheep farmers on the main issues, from lamb price to sheep payments, CAP reform to hill-farming issues and sheep tagging and inspections”.

John says the work agenda is broad and varied. I spoke to John earlier in the week, to discuss what he views as the main challenges facing sheep farmers, his priorities, and a number of other areas.

* What past experience do you have to call on to help you in your role of IFA national sheep chairman?

>>“I started with Macra Na Feirme, during which time I was involved in a range of issues, such as debating and organising events. I was then appointed Macra Na Feirme representative on the Mayo committee of Agriculture. I represented Macra at national level in Holland, at the European Young Farmers Clubs. I later became secretary of South Mayo lamb-producer group. The group introduced a quality assurance scheme with Dawn Meats, Teagasc and Bord Bia. I then became Mayo IFA sheep chairman, serving for six years. I worked with the committee on all the issues during my term”.

* What do you see as the main challenges facing sheep farmers?

>>“The spring of 2013 was very difficult for sheep farmers, with blizzard-like conditions in March and April, the main lambing time for most sheep farmers. This led to high losses and a significant increase in costs, through purchasing of ration.

“The exceptionally good summer helped recovery somewhat, as did the budget announcement, by Minister Coveney, of €15m for the 2014 Sheep Grassland scheme. However, the recent CAP announcement by the minister has dropped a bombshell on the future of sheep farming. By subsuming the grassland payment into the baseline SFP figure, this will erode the value of this payment going forward. It removes the incentive for sheep farmers to maintain and increase their flock numbers.”

* What are your main priorities?

>>“To try to get a more targeted method of support for both hill and lowland sheep farmers. To work with Bord Bia, to maintain and increase consumption of lamb. To encourage live exports and to maintain and improve lamb prices.

“There is a whole host of hill issues to be worked on: e.g, getting a market for light lamb, availability of GLAS and GLAS-plus schemes for all hill-sheep farmers, and removal of the 80% stocking shareholder rule for commonages, which is unworkable.”

* What plans have you in mind to deal with these priorities?

>>“To work closely with the minister, Department of Agriculture, Bord Bia, Teagasc, meat factories, Sheep Ireland, EU Commission Sheep Advisory Group, which meets in Brussels, and all other relevant stakeholders.”

* Sheep theft has become a growing problem lately. What can farmers do to try to deter it from happening?

>>“Have sheep tagged and branded. Lock all gates. Rural areas should also participate in the Garda text-alert scheme.”

* Dog attacks are another problem, especially around this time of year. What rights has a farmer, if they come across a dog, or dogs, attacking their sheep?

>>“IFA recently launched a protocol for farmers who encounter a dog attack on their sheep flocks. The protocol involves an easy-to-follow, ten-point plan of action, covering what a farmer should do following a dog attack or sheep kill. Based on feedback the IFA gets from farmers who have had to deal with dog attacks on their flock, one of the biggest problems is the lack of information on what they should do, who they should contact, and where can they get help. The protocol can be found on the IFA website.”

* The possible Kepak Hacketstown plant closure caused worry among sheep farmers, amid fears that they would have difficulties getting lambs slaughtered. Do you see this affecting sheep farmers?

>>“We met with Kepak management on the issue. The Hacketstown plant is in an intensive sheep area, and any loss to the slaughtering capacity removes competition from the market. The review of the plant’s future is ongoing and we await the results.

“I will be the voice of sheep farmers at the IFA Executive Council, and ensure that the interests of all sheep farmers will be dealt with for the future viability and growth of this industry.”


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