Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Charlie McConalogue has been called on by the Irish Natura and Hill Farmers’ Association (INHFA) for an “up-to-date” reference year for the Sheep Welfare Scheme.

This follows an announcement by Minister McConalogue last week to seek an amendment to Ireland’s Rural Development Plan for the Sheep Welfare Scheme reference year, proposing a reference year of 2017.

However, the farming organisation says that this reference year “should be 2020 or possibly the average of 2019 and 2020”.

INHFA president Colm O’Donnell said his organisation has “for some time sought changes to this reference year and have lobbied the minister at national level and at county level in Donegal”.

The acceptance for a change in the reference year, which the INHFA president stated, was “first acknowledged publicly by the minister at the INHFA national AGM [annual general meeting] held last November.”

While welcoming the move on the scheme, O’Donnell stressed: “A reference year of 2017 falls well short of what the organisation and farmers need.

“Since the scheme commenced in 2016, farmers have seen a significant change in their initial reference numbers which was based on the farmers’ average flock numbers from 2014 and 2015.

In adopting an up-to-date reference year, we can ensure better support for the many young farmers and new entrants that have increased their stock numbers and work towards ensuring as much of the allocated budget of €25 million is used in supporting an expanding sheep sector.

Concluding, O’Donnell said he hopes that the minister and others “will recognise how a 2017 reference year will deliver little in terms of additional income for the sector and support a more ambitious reference year of 2020”.