The outgoing chair of the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) Sheep Committee has called for more to be done to encourage young people to the sector.

Sean Dennehy, who hails from Cork, said that he is sure Teagasc figures will show 2021 was a good year for returns for sheep farmers.

However, in spite of the high prices last year, he outlined that farmers were not enthusiastic about buying breeding sheep.

“The specialised breeding sales got off to a flying start. Within a month, that trade had come back to the previous year, even though we had the highest five-year average and probably the highest autumn price ever,” Dennehy explained.

Young Sheep Farmers

When asked by Agriland if more effort is needed to attract young blood into the sector, the sheep farmer agreed.

“We have on our [IFA] committee, some very young, enthusiastic sheep farmers that are willing to drive on. But I think we need to sit down and look at the whole industry and find ways with Teagasc and the other stakeholders of trying to entice young people into sheep.

“We have to promote the advantages of sheep as an industry as well. As a farm organisation, we have to be at the forefront and be telling the positive stories rather than always being negative,” he noted.

Although a lot of capital is not required to get into the industry, Dennehy admitted that there is a high labour demand.

Sheep Sector

Dennehy, who also manages Bandon Mart in Co. Cork, noted that the past five years have not been a “complete bull run” for the sector, citing the devastation caused by the ‘Beast from the East’ in 2018 and the poor prices of the following year.

“It’s good that it turned the corner and that we’re in a strong position, and hopefully that strong position will continue.

“A lot of people during the pandemic had more time to cook and stayed at home and lamb was the ‘go-to’ to try something new. They say it takes three months to make a habit and hopefully we’ll see that trend continuing going forward,” Dennehy stated.

He paid tribute to the efforts of Bord Bia to promote Irish produce on the domestic market when the Covid-19 pandemic began.

Dog Attacks

Dennehy said that action must be taken by the government on the issue of dogs attacking sheep.

He said that the emphasis has to be on the owners, adding that the dogs should not be blamed for sheep being killed.

“The responsibility is squarely on the dog owners. The irresponsible small minority that don’t keep their dogs within their property or take their dogs where they shouldn’t onto farmland are causing the bother for everyone,” he explained.

Dennehy stated that the IFA’s ‘No Dogs Allowed’ campaign which was launched last year after farmers had been abused while confronting dog owners on their lands will continue in 2022.

“We need a single database for dogs and more stringent fines for people that allow dogs to do damage. The microchipping and the licensing system needs to be more robust and better implemented and we need better funding for dog wardens,” he said.

A New Era

Although he is looking forward to having more time to dedicate to farming, Sean Dennehy said that he enjoyed representing sheep producers for the past four years.

During his term, he highlighted the need for updated reference years for younger farmers in the new Sheep Welfare Scheme.

Next Thursday (January 27), Dennehy will be succeeded as Sheep Committee chair by the recently elected Kevin Comiskey from Leitrim during the IFA AGM in the Mansion House in Dublin.