The commencement of advance payments under year five of the Sheep Welfare Scheme will see almost €16 million paid to about 18,000 farmers participating in the scheme. While this has been generally welcomed, one senator has highlighted what she believes to be a discrepancy between funding allocated to farmers based on different livestock units.

Louth-based Fianna Fáil senator, Erin McGreehan said the advance payment of more than €225,000 to 197 sheep farmers in her constituency as part of the scheme is to be welcomed.

But during a recent debate in the Seanad, Senator McGreehan highlighted the intensity of the labour involved in sheep farming and said that there is a “completely unfair” discrepancy between how funding is allocated for livestock units.

“Despite the intensity of the work required, the sheep sector delivers a low income for those involved in it,” she said.

“From talking to sheep farmers, many of whom are elderly, I know that this new sheep improvement scheme is important. I wish to highlight a matriculation when it comes to payments on livestock.

“One livestock unit equates to one cow or 6.6 ewes. Cattle farmers will receive €150 for their first 10 cows and €120 for each cow thereafter. Sheep farmers are paid €79.20 per livestock unit.

“That is a sizable discrepancy. Sheep farmers have a significant role to play in the agricultural sector and industry,” she said.

Announcing the advance payments yesterday, Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Charlie McConalogue said they “reflect the change to the reference year, bringing the reference year to the higher of either the farmers’ existing reference number or their 2017 sheep census return”.

For those who joined as new entrants, the reference year is being updated to 2019.

This will see an increased payment for 11,500 farmers under the scheme with no-one seeing their payment reduced because of this change.

According to the Irish Farmers’ Association, these reference-year changes are worth over €2m more for farmers in the scheme.

But Senator McGreehan said this increase barely covers the increased costs of production for farmers.