Rolling reference year for sheep farmers – only on a case-by-case basis

The Minister for Agriculture, Michael Creed, has said that he is prepared to consider, but only on a case-by-case basis, a rolling reference year for young farmers and commonage farmers in the proposed sheep scheme.

Minister Creed was responding to a parliamentary question from Sinn Fein’s Agriculture Spokesperson, Martin Kenny, who asked the Minister if he would include a rolling reference year in the scheme.

The Sinn Fein Deputy said that the inclusion of a rolling reference year would assist young farmers who are trying to build up their flock and also commonage farmers who may have to adjust their flock numbers due to new commonage framework plans.

“Young farmers need to be given the opportunity and incentive to build their flock number to the optimum stocking rate,” Kenny said.

Likewise commonage hill farmers may have to adjust their flock numbers in order to comply with new commonage framework plans and should not be put at a disadvantage as a result.

“The inclusion of a rolling reference year would alleviate the concerns farmers have around these issues. I am satisfied that the ministers comments suggest that he seriously considering my proposal to include a rolling reference year in the new sheep scheme,” he said.

While the Minister said that he would consider certain cases, he said that these are issues that will be considered in the context of the final terms and conditions of the scheme.

“Any such flexibility must not breach the general principle that the aid cannot provide an incentive to expand flocks, must comply with the provisions of the Rural Development Regulations, and must not have an undue impact on the funding available to other farmers under the scheme,” he said.

The new Programme for Government has committed to introducing a scheme for sheep farmers under the RDP with a budget of €25m to be provided in Budget 2017.

“This provision in the programme for Government demonstrates a clear commitment of the Government to the sheep sector in Ireland which builds on the existing range of supports to sheep farmers provided by my Department which include the Basic Payment Scheme, GLAS, TAMS and the ANC scheme.

“The Scheme is being proposed as an animal welfare scheme and as such will utilise Article 33 of the Rural Development Regulation. The scheme will require applicants to engage in actions to improve animal welfare conditions in applicant flocks,” the Minister said.

Earlier this year, the Minister for Agriculture said that the new sheep scheme won’t open to applications until 2017.