The government has been urged to ringfence funds from a new European Commission initiative, to support the European Union (EU) agricultural sector, for the sheep sector in Ireland.

Sheep farmers do “not have the capacity” to absorb further losses and need urgent financial support according to the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA).

It believes there is a “crisis” in the sector and the government needs to step in and provide urgent financial support directly to Ireland’s 35,000 sheep farms.

IFA sheep chair, Kevin Comiskey, believes one way the government could do this is by earmarking specific funding for the sector from the latest European Commission initiative.

The commission has proposed a €9.5 million package for Irish farmers out of total €430 million in additional funds earmarked for farmers throughout the EU.

It has said that this funding is for farmers “impacted by adverse climatic events, high input costs, and diverse market and trade related issues”.

Strongest case

According to Comiskey sheep farmers have the “strongest case” above other sectors to qualify for funding from the commission’s support package.

“Sheep farmers last year operated off a margin of €7 a ewe and to-date this year have lost €15 a ewe from the market place, putting sheep farmers into a severe loss-making situation,” he said.

The IFA has also highlighted that 2023 prices are more than 40c/kg behind last year’s levels and according to the organisation recent price cuts by factories “have compounded the situation”.

Comiskey said the Irish government has the leeway to boost the allocated €9.5 million from the EU to €28.5 million in total.

He believes that the latest EU support package together with the Brexit Adjustment Reserve (BAR) provides the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine with “two very significant funding sources at his disposal” to support the sector.

The IFA sheep chair said latest indications from Teagasc and Bord Bia support the organisation’s position that the “sheep sector is in an extremely difficult space”.

According to Comiskey the IFA has put comprehensive proposals to the minister setting out why sheep farmers need “€30/ewe” and also why incentives are needed for store lamb finishers.