Sheep farmers are still getting paid below the cost of production despite recent increases, according to the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association (ICSA).

ICSA sheep chairman Sean McNamara outlined the issue, explaining: “We need to be getting €5.50/kg at the very minimum, just to cover our costs.

“At the end of a bad year, processors need to get real and pay a fair price.

We can’t keep going producing at below the cost of production. The figures just don’t stack up.

McNamara said that the African swine fever (ASF) crisis meant there was huge demand for animal protein in China, adding that this should be helping prices.

“The impact on global pork prices along with the fact that sheepmeat plants in Ireland are now China approved suggests there is plenty of scope to increase sheep prices both in the short-term and into 2020,” he noted.

The chairman called on Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Michael Creed, to make a commitment to continue supporting sheep farmers through the Sheep Welfare Scheme.

“The scheme needs to be extended beyond next year and must deliver a significantly higher payment.

“Higher rates of payment can be facilitated through a bolt-on mechanism to the scheme, which would see sheep farmers rewarded for undertaking additional tasks,” he said.

McNamara argued that the precedent has been set for this under the Beef Data and Genomics Programme (BDGP) with the addition of the Beef Environmental Efficiency Pilot (BEEP) scheme.

A similar bolt-on action or menu of actions under the Sheep Welfare Scheme would work just as well and deliver more benefits to the sheep sector as a whole.

The ICSA has also called for a BEAM-type scheme for sheep farmers. On this, McNamara said: “We have sold fit lambs at below the cost of production all year.

“It’s not just the beef sector that has been badly affected Brexit uncertainty; sheep farmers have been badly hit too and deserve the same compensation measures,” the chairman concluded.