Fianna Fáil spokesperson on Agriculture & Food Éamon Ó Cuív has criticised the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Simon Coveney for scrapping an essential scheme for farmers without investing in a long-term replacement programme. Minister Coveney has abolished the Sheep Grassland Scheme, which will see farmers lose out on payments progressively over the next five years.

Deputy Ó Cuív commented: “The decision to integrate funding that was specifically designed to support sheep farmers into the Single Farm Payment over the next five years will lead to a dramatic loss in revenue for hundreds of farmers across the country. In the past year sheep farmers’ income has fallen by almost 40%, with the average income now standing at €11,160. At the same time as income levels are falling, costs are continuing to rise; forage prices were up over 50%, while meal costs rose by 22% in the last year. This is putting smaller farmers under increasing and unsustainable pressure. The loss of the Sheep Grassland Scheme will be a major body blow for the sector.

“The abolition of the Sheep Grassland Scheme will see sheep farmers’ income reduced by 20% every year for the next five years. This is a particularly difficult pill for farmers with low Single Farm Payments and who depended on the scheme to bring their incomes up to swallow, and has the potential to have an extremely detrimental impact on the viability of their business. Once again the Minister is ignoring the impact that changes to the funding system are having on small family farmers. I have called on Minister Coveney to re-introduce a coupled payment for sheep, but to date he has refused to engage on the issue.

“In response to a Parliamentary Question, Minister Coveney claimed that farmers will see a benefit in the Single Farm Payment once the Sheep Grassland Scheme is transferred over in 2015, but he has ignored the fact that any increase will be temporary, and will actually result in the complete erosion of the value of the Grassland Scheme payment for farmers under the minimum Single Farm Payment. The vast bulk of low land farmers and virtually all hill farmers will be negatively impacted by this move, yet the Minister has so far refused to re-examine or re-work the new model.

“This change comes on top of savage cuts to the Sheep Grassland Scheme over the past two years. In the 2012 Budget, payments were slashed by €4m. Funding at farm level reduced from around €8.50 to €6.35 per ewe. Sheep farmers are having to survive on very low incomes. The abolition of the Sheep Grassland Scheme will put further pressure on the industry and will have a major impact on its sustainability. I’m calling on Minister Coveney to carry out an urgent review of this decision and to reverse it”, concluded Deputy Ó Cuív.