Tuesday, 30 November 2010
Department of Agriculture and Food
I am strongly committed to securing a future for the sheep industry in Ireland, which is a valuable part of the overall agri-food sector. In the past two years I have provided a number of key supports to this sector, most notably: €7 million from the 2009 Single Farm Payment National Reserve under the Uplands Sheep Payment Scheme; €54 million for the three year grassland sheep scheme commencing this year and €8 million for the sheep fencing/mobile handling equipment scheme, also commencing this year.
I am confident that these supports will provide a much-needed boost to sheep farmers' incomes, which should encourage them to stay in the sector. As the grassland scheme focuses on flocks with breeding ewes, it should also provide a significant incentive to farmers to maintain their production levels, which is vital for the future of a viable sheep industry in Ireland. In addition, Bord Bia will also spend up to €1 million this year on the promotion of sheep and lamb at home and abroad and Teagasc has allocated almost €1.5 million for sheep research for 2010.
It is well recognised that the future of the sheep industry depends on its ability to meet the needs of the market. In order to do this effectively, the sector must focus on competitiveness, innovation and the demands of the consumer. Specific recommendations for the sheep industry are set out in Food Harvest 2020, which provides a vision for Irish Agri-food and Fisheries for the next 10 years. It envisages that over the coming years, demand for sheepmeat on the European market will outstrip production levels, which could provide opportunities for exporting countries such as Ireland. This should provide the potential for better returns, provided the industry can continue the market and product diversification which has been evident in recent years.
At producer level there is likely to be improved price prospects, provided an increased focus on production, efficiency and product quality is evident. With a renewed commercial focus by the sheep sector, building consumption on the domestic market and through the implementation of the recommendations of Food Harvest 2020, a target of output value growth of 20% has been identified for the sheep sector by 2020.
The recommendations of the report focus on farm competitiveness and the processing sector. On the farm side, they emphasise the importance of the continuance of the application of on-farm labour efficiencies and new technologies, breed improvement and the production of a quality product. On the processing side, the focus is on efficiencies, innovation and improved product range. These recommendations build on the Malone report, which was published in 2006 and provided a clear framework for the sheep sector. Indeed the Malone report is still very relevent and Food Harvest 2020 endorses its findings and recommendations and calls for their full implementation by the relevant stakeholders.
While the responsibility for implementing most of the recommendations of the Malone report fall on the industry itself, a number are within the remit of my Department and the state agencies under its aegis, who have made significant progress in implementing them. Among the initiatives taken were:
The establishment of 'Sheep Ireland' to take over the Department's current breed improvement programme and develop a new one. An interim Sheep Board, comprising representatives of farming organisations and breeders will oversee this process, with the Irish Cattle Breeders Federation (ICBF) providing the technical and professional service required.
The establishment of the Lamb Quality Assurance Scheme in 2007. This Scheme is operated by Bord Bia and now has over 8,400 participants.
Bord Bia has also intensified its efforts to promote lamb on the home and export markets. Together with its UK and French counterparts, it is part of a generic promotion campaign on the important French market.
Teagasc has developed a comprehensive plan to restructure its sheep support services, including a Better Farm Programme for sheep, which aims to establish focal points for the on-farm implementation, development and evaluation of technology that is relevant to the sheep sector. This approach provides an opportunity to engage with sheep farmers on the use of the latest management practices and to identify research and development needs.
In addition, the support being provided for processing facilities under the beef and sheepmeat capital investment fund underlines the Government's commitment to the sector. I am confident that all of the actions I have outlined above will be of significant benefit to the sector.