Factories have “as much to answer” on sheep price as they do on beef, according to the national treasurer of the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA).

Tim Cullinan argued that price cuts were “driving farmers out of the sector”, and demanded answers from processors as to why prices have fallen so sharply, while the number of sheep being imported into Ireland has dropped.

He went on to warn processors that they are “pressing the self-destruct button themselves” on the industry.

According to Cullinan, there is a “sheep farming exodus” occurring, which will “only accelerate” without fair prices.

“Factories claimed several months ago that lamb prices had bottomed out, and in the last number of weeks the price has instead collapsed completely. Figures I obtained from the Livestock and Meat Commission in Northern Ireland show an 18% drop in the numbers of sheep exported into the Republic [of Ireland] in the year to date,” he pointed out.

“How, if that’s the case, has the sheep price totally collapsed? This drop in the number of sheep coming in would suggest that price should come back up. Answers are needed and the processors must give them,” he stressed.

Only last week we saw the National Sheep Survey reveal that 600 producers left sheep farming last year. I know plenty of sheep farmers up and down the country who are only hanging on by their fingertips and probably would let go except for their passion for what they do.

Cullinan went on to claim that there is a “growing sense” that processors are “latching on” to, and taking advantage of, the depressed beef prices, and the wider depression across agriculture.

“Whatever it is, it’s totally unacceptable,” he said.

“Last year, farmers were getting €6.50/kg and now they’re back around €5/kg. And last year, income was down due to extra feed costs. Sheep farming is now in crisis and the processors are the reason why. Make no mistake about it,” Cullinan claimed in conclusion.