€15.5 million in advance payments under the Sheep Welfare Scheme have commenced issuing, Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Charlie McConalogue has announced today (Tuesday, November 15).

The payments under year six of the scheme will be made to some 17,500 farmer participants in the scheme.

These payments reflect the change to the reference year that was introduced last year by the minister.

The change to the reference year “better reflects the level of activity on participants’ farms given the passage of time since the introduction of the scheme in 2016”, the minister said.

“The extension of the scheme over the previous two years and the change to the reference year reflects the commitment of the government to the sheep sector in Ireland,” he added.

The advance payments are made at a rate of 85% of the full annual payment.

Minister McConalogue said the payments “are an important support to sheep farmers in the delivery of key welfare actions and provides a financial boost to the individual farmers and wider rural economy”.

The balancing payments for the scheme are set to be made in the second quarter of 2023.

This is the final year of the Sheep Welfare Scheme. It will be replaced in the new Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) by the Sheep Improvement Scheme (SIS) from next year.

“Later this year, I will be launching the successor to this scheme, the SIS, which will be aimed at sheep farmers with breeding ewes,” Minister McConalogue said.

“The SIS will build on the progress made by the Sheep Welfare Scheme by providing support for actions that improve animal health and welfare in the sector.”

He added: “The introduction of this scheme will further demonstrate the continuing commitment of this government to the sheep sector for the coming years.”

The minister urged farmers with outstanding queries from the department to respond as soon as possible in order to facilitate payment.