Wednesday, 10 November 2021
Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters
The Minister of State is welcome. I have a question for him and his Department. I am seeking an update on the Department's plan for the viability of the sheep sector, along with an update on the wool feasibility study. As the Minister of State knows, sheep farming is a sustainable sector. I hope the Department will pay more attention to it and see it is a strong, sustainable sector. It has demonstrated time and again that it plays an integral role in protecting and enhancing the diverse habitats that are commonly found on marginalised farmland and lowland farms. With the correct supports, this livestock can coexist with fragile conservation sites, areas of scientific research and breeding sites for endangered wildlife.
I welcome many of the proposals in the Common Agricultural Policy, CAP, but many in the sheep sector are disappointed with the new sheep scheme. The next CAP will only deliver €2 for the sheep welfare scheme. I have generations of sheep farmers behind me. I am a sheep farmer's daughter so I know the importance of the sheep sector and the importance of this funding to farming families. I come from north Louth and I remember the devastation in the farming and sheep sectors that we love when we lost all our stock to foot-and-mouth disease many years ago.
Like every market, the sheep sector experiences fluctuations. We saw some very high prices this year, although they have now dipped. The cost of production has gone up dramatically. Sheep farming is labour intensive and sheep require a lot of attention. The age cohort of farmers is increasing and due to the work involved, older farmers are finding it difficult. Herding sheep, dipping, clipping, feet maintenance and dagging to prevent maggots are all required. Much work needs to be done to look after sheep. The Government and the Department must support the sheep sector to make it more attractive to young farmers.
Despite the intensity of the work required, the sheep sector delivers a low income for those involved in it. From talking to sheep farmers, many of whom are elderly, I know that this new sheep improvement scheme is important. I wish to highlight a matriculation when it comes to payments on livestock. One livestock unit equates to one cow or 6.6 ewes. Cattle farmers will receive €150 for their first ten cows and €120 for each cow thereafter. Sheep farmers are paid €79.20 per livestock unit. That is a sizeable discrepancy. Sheep farmers have a significant role to play in the agricultural sector and industry.
There is an issue around the lack of movement from the Department on creating markets for our wool. A sheep must be clipped every year. It costs €3 to clip a sheep and a farmer gets a return of 25 cent. Many farmers are putting their wool into storage and holding it. There is so much that the Government can do. I am asking for a research fund and I encourage the Government to put that out to tender. It should facilitate companies. There is much that companies and the Government can do to facilitate an increase in the size of the market for traditional wool for clothing and new products for insulation. Far better and brighter people than me can find creative ways to use our wool and to give farmers a proper payment for it.