Written answers

Thursday, 9 March 2023

Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine

Agriculture Schemes

Photo of Seán CanneySeán Canney (Galway East, Independent)
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354. To ask the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine if it is his intention to increase the payment for the sheep welfare scheme to €30 per ewe, as requested by the farming organisations due to the poor prices for sheep and the increase in the cost of feedstuffs; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12084/23]

Photo of Charlie McConalogueCharlie McConalogue (Donegal, Fianna Fail)
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Both I and the Government are fully committed to maintaining a viable sheep sector as an integral element of a balanced regional economy. Sheep farmers are hugely committed to producing a world-class, safe and sustainable product and the Government recognises that.

Market prices are a commercial matter between suppliers and buyers and the Government has no role in determining commodity prices in the sheep sector. I do recognise the pressure that sheep farmers have been under as a result of the downturn in the markets over the past number of months.

My Department provides significant support to the sector under the new CAP Strategic Plan (CSP), both through a new targeted scheme for sheep farmers - the Sheep Improvement Scheme - and through the broad range of schemes in the CSP.

The new Sheep Improvement Scheme has over 19,000 applications submitted. The scheme replaces the previous Sheep Welfare Scheme but shares the same aim of improving animal health and welfare in the sector, with a 20% increase in the ewe payment rate - from €10 to €12 - compared to the previous scheme.

The CSP provides almost €10 billion in supports over the period to 2027 for farm families. Sheep farmers are eligible for several other schemes in addition to Sheep Improvement Scheme, including the ACRES and Organics schemes, which are particularly suited to sheep enterprises or mixed beef and sheep enterprises.

I have secured places for all 46,000 farmers in ACRES which I know will benefit to many sheep farmers.

Furthermore, support for early-stage producer organisations, which will be introduced later this year, will strengthen the position of sheep farmers in the supply chain.

At my request, the Food Vision Sheep Group met recently to discuss the sheep market situation. All the main stakeholders are represented on the Group and were invited to make submissions. I will carefully consider the Chair’s report on the outcome of the Group's deliberations and we continue to monitor the market situation in the sector.

While market returns have reduced from the record prices of recent years due to increased input costs, Teagasc forecasts suggest that 2023 family farm income for specialised sheep farms will be 2% down on 2022 at €19,500, due to the important role which direct payments play in contributing to sheep farm incomes.

However, I have now asked officials in my Department to examine what potential supports, if any, could be put in place to support our sheep farmers in light of the recent challenges. Budgets for 2023 have been set and are locked in place so any changes to this will require scoping out as well as diverting funds from previously agreed areas.

We have a sheep sector that is the envy of the world with our sheep farmers at the core of everything we do. I want to ensure there is a long-term and sustainable future for the sector.


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