A public meeting is to be held on Monday (January 23), aiming to send a “clear message” on lamb prices and highlight the “dire state” the sector is in, according to the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA).

Kevin Comiskey, the sheep chair of the IFA, told Agriland that a room “full of sheep farmers from every neck of the woods in Ireland is needed” to send a clear message – that if there is no intervention, there will be no future for the sector.

“I predicted this situation would occur with lamb prices when I met with Mike Magan at the National Fodder and Food Security Committee meeting last spring,” the IFA sheep chair said.

“We [the IFA] put a strong case forward to the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Charlie McConalogue, that there was going to be pressure on lamb prices in the backend of 2022 into 2023.

“It was pointed out to us about the fodder crisis and the supports made by the department to aid farmers in making fodder, but we told him that silage won’t finish lambs.

“Rather that there was a need for direct supports for finishing lambs and because of the cost of inputs, such as concentrates, we are in a situation where there is 60,000-70,000 lambs being carried over into this year.”

Comiskey highlighted to the minister that the key issue for farmers was meal prices.

“This is because farmers couldn’t afford to buy meal,” he said.

“There is an onus on the factories to source new markets. We [as farmers] have embraced the clean livestock policy and quality assurance and have done everything that can possibly be done on the ground,” he added.

Comiskey has now urged the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, the factories and Bord Bia to ensure that Irish farmers get a “a fair price”

He added: “It’s very much on the factories to stand up and return a fair price and also Bord Bia have a role as well with sourcing new markets and promoting the quality product Irish sheep famers are producing.

“We have been told the US market is there but we need to start getting product into it”.

IFA sheep chair Kevin Comiskey

The IFA sheep chair said it is vital that Minister McConalogue supports farmers directly “because sheep farmers got nothing in Budget 2023 and we can no longer be the poor relation”.

“It’s a low-income sector and a environmentally friendly sector so it’s time sheep farmers got the help they need,” Comiskey added.

“It’s not just farmers finishing lambs that need direct supports, all sheep farmers do. Many are facing into lambing ewes in the coming weeks and this price collapse is going to have a knock-on effect right through into the year.

“The farmers lambing ewes, when they come to selling their lambs as stores the farmers who would normally buy them for finishing later in the year won’t be able to if prices don’t start rising or supports are given.

“Those that bought store lambs did give a fair price for them this backend gone but they won’t be able to this year if they don’t get rewarded now with a return for those lambs they finished,” Comiskey added.

Clear message on lamb prices

Comiskey said the IFA will hold a public meeting by the IFA on Monday in Athlone with the key aim of “gathering a large crowd of farmers to send a clear message”.

“We need to send a clear message to the Minister for Agriculture [Food and the Marine], the factories and Bord Bia at the meeting that sheep farmers are in crisis and that the future of the sector is in the balance.

“Sheep farmers cannot continue finishing lambs at below the cost of production and without direct supports and prices rising there is no future for the sector,” he warned.