Thursday, 11 October 2018
Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions
The income of sheep farmers is less than half the average industrial wage. I note the age profile of sheep farmers, one third of whom are well over 65. Typically, they are older than the average farmer. People will not be farming always and there are not new entrants to farming. They do not see it as a viable enterprise. What steps is the Minister taking to make sheep farming be seen as a viable enterprise?
I am very conscious of the important role the sheep sector plays in regard to the continued growth and development of our agrifood sector. With this in mind, I have ensured that my Department has put in place a range of supports for the sheep sector in recent years across a number of schemes.
With regard to Pillar 1 supports under the Common Agricultural Policy, sheep farmers continue to benefit from the direct income support available under the basic payment scheme. In addition, Ireland's rural development programme also contains a number of support schemes that offer a direct financial benefit to Irish sheep farmers. Sheep farmers continue to benefit from the areas of natural constraint, ANC, scheme and from GLAS in large numbers, as well as from capital investment support under TAMS.
In Tuesday's budget, I announced an additional €23 million for the ANC scheme, bringing the total to €250 million in 2019. I expect sheep farmers to be significant beneficiaries of that measure. The rural development programme also includes specific provision for sheep farmers within the knowledge transfer programme, which has helped to build on the existing knowledge base and skills in the sector in a way that will help to ensure continued sustainable development in the sector.
In addition to these measures, in December 2016 I announced a new sheep welfare scheme as an amendment to the rural development programme. Under this scheme, farmers are required to choose from a menu of actions that aim to improve the overall welfare of their flock. These actions must be completed over a 12-month period and, in return, the farmer receives a payment of €10 per breeding ewe.
Additional information not given on the floor of the House
This important support was introduced for a period of four scheme years, and I am glad to say that over €18.4 million has been issued to sheep farmers in respect of year 1 of the scheme. Eighty-five percent advance payments under year 2 of the scheme are due to commence in November of this year.
I am pleased to note the strong export performance of the sector last year, which was reflected in the Central Statistics Office trade and livestock statistics of 2017. In 2017, just under 63,000 tonnes of Irish sheepmeat, worth €311 million, was exported in comparison to 56,000 tonnes, worth €277, the previous year. This represents a significant growth in tonnage, of 12.5%, and net worth of 12%.
I am committed to ensuring that my Department continues to work to underpin the development of the sheep sector.