Hill farmers bring suckler and sheep issues to table in McConalogue meeting

The Irish Natura and Hill Farmers’ Association (INHFA) has held its first meeting with Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Charlie McConalogue, where it highlighted the need for “ongoing development” of the suckler and sheep sectors.

In a meeting with Minister McConalogue and Minister of State Pippa Hackett, INHFA president Colm O’Donnell said that these sectors were “critical assets” throughout rural Ireland.

Afterwards, O’Donnell said the meeting had been “very positive”, and he said that the INHFA’s points were “well received” by the ministers.

O’Donnell pressed the need for a marketing campaign to develop a suckler beef brand which, he said, would require “the rebranding of our naturally reared suckler beef to recognise the unique farming system that prioritises high animal welfare…and produced with a low or carbon neutral footprint”.

Outside of a suckler brand, the INHFA president also outlined the need for direct supports to the sector.

O’Donnell told the ministers that this should take the form of €200 on the first 10 cows, with a digressive payment after that, with farmers completing tasks similar to the Beef Environmental Efficiency Pilot (BEEP).

O’Donnell said that €160 million would be needed for this purpose.

Sheep

On the issue of sheep, the INHFA delegation called for a roll-over of the Sheep Welfare Scheme, with an increased budget capable of paying €20 on every ewe.

“The scheme has been very popular with farmers and provided much-needed support to farmers when lamb prices didn’t match their expectations or needs,” O’Donnell said.

For the wool sector, the INHFA called for an intervention model from the state to deal with the backlog of wool.

We must ensure that farmers have market options with regard to wool which is why we need to develop a woolen industry here in Ireland.

The INHFA delegation outlined a plan in their Budget 2021 proposal for a feasibility study to explore “all options relating to adding value to wool”.

O’Donnell said: “This was well received by both ministers and department staff and we anticipate further engagement on it.”