The UK’s National Sheep Association (NSA) has expressed disappointment at the lack of support for the sheep sector in Northern Ireland’s Future Agricultural Policy.

The organisation has said it is “dismayed by the disregard shown for the Northern Ireland sheep sector in a recent announcement from DAERA [Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs] Minister of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs, Edwin Poots”.

NSA believes that the lack of proposals to incentivise productivity in breeding ewes being brought forward at this stage is an exclusion of particular importance, due to productivity efficiency leading to reduced carbon footprints.

NSA Northern Ireland development officer Edward Adamson said: “A population of more than 968,000 breeding ewes on Northern Ireland farms support rural businesses, communities, biodiversity and the landscape iconic to Ireland.

“To disregard the value of this sector is short-sighted. Supporting one sector in favour of another has the potential to distort the marketplace and the balance between cattle and sheep.

“The decision also has the potential to damage the Northern Ireland Wool market. It is hard to understand why sheep have not been treated on an equivalent per hectare basis as beef cattle.”

NSA chief executive Phil Stocker added: “The lack of consideration for an already vulnerable sector in Northern Ireland, operating within a volatile marketplace, will have far reaching consequences.

“NSA is dismayed about the omission when we know the contribution sheep farming makes and are clear about what can be done to take the sector forward.”

The NSA, Stocker added, is encouraging DAERA to re-look at its decision and extend tailored support to the sheep sector.

“NSA would like to see the Ruminant Genetics Programme being open to the beef and sheep sector at the same time, and a package of measures to incentivise enhanced sheep health and welfare outcomes,” Stocker added.

Future Agricultural Policy

Minister Poots announced the 54 policy decisions on Future Agricultural Policy for Northern Ireland last week (March 24) one of which, says that there are no proposals, at this stage, to support the sheep sector.

However, the policy noted that work will be undertaken to explore options for support that will improve the overall performance and resilience of the sheep sector, the policy added, including exploring how the sheep sector could be incentivised to provide baseline performance data to inform future sector support measures and to engage in a future Ruminant Genetics Programme.