Yesterday evening (Tuesday, November 30), Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Charlie McConalogue made a guest appearance at a sheep webinar held by Teagasc Sligo/Leitrim/Donegal.

The minister spoke about the new Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) for the period 2023-2027 and specifically spoke about the proposed Sheep Improvement Scheme (SIS), which is set to succeed the current Sheep Welfare Scheme (SWS).

He outlined how the various other schemes would impact sheep farmers under the new CAP.

Impact of the new CAP on sheep farmers

Speaking about the new CAP and the proposed SIS, the Minister said: “Over the last while I’ve toured every county and held public meetings regarding the CAP plan, and I know there was a hope and expectation among sheep farmers that I would be able to allocate further funding to the SIS and I understood that.

“But, I’m confined by the budget that I am handed and I allocated it as best I could to the various schemes in place. The vast majority of those schemes, sheep farmers will be able to avail of and access.

“But what we do have in this CAP plan going forward is an ingrained sheep scheme from the very start in 2023. At the start of the last CAP, we didn’t have any scheme in place for that CAP programme; it only evolved later on in that CAP.

“I maintained the SWS this year and next year and we will see the SIS take over for the duration of the next CAP with the addition of that new measure revolving around genotyping rams and the increased allocation of €12/ewe.

“To touch on the CAP more widely, there’s significant funding in there which will be really important for sheep farmers in relation to the new environment scheme – which has 50% extra funding over and above what was there previously.”

The minister told the webinar that farmers who will be able to avail of the scheme have the option of cooperated measures that can result in a payment of up to €10,000 and an average payment of over €7,000.

“Then for the remainder in the new environmental scheme, a maximum payment of €7,000 is on the table, with an average payment €5,000 – which is important and is a significant step up for all farmers based on what the outgoing Green Low-Carbon Agri-Environment Scheme (GLAS) would have been,” McConalogue added.

“Then across the rest of the CAP, maintaining the Areas of Natural Constraint (ANC) Scheme and Knowledge Transfer Programme were important.

“Funding for the organic farming scheme has increased significantly and in the past, some sheep farmers may have been blocked from getting into it due a lack capacity and funding for it, that won’t be the case in the future and there is great potential in organics to exploit.”

‘Heartening to see strong sheep prices’

Concluding his address, Minister McConalogue said: “It’s been great and heartening to see strong prices for sheep over the last year or so.

“It’s been long overdue. Prices have been much more decent over the last few years. There were many years there where it was heavy going for sheep farmers.

“The short-term outlook for the sheep sector looks pretty decent so hopefully that will continue, but certainly as minister for the sector, in any way I can I will support it as best I can.”

No census year set in stone for new SIS

Taking questions after his talk, the minister was asked what census year will be used for the SIS in 2023.

Replying, he said: “We haven’t decided that yet. We will looking at it in a way that maximises the number of sheep involved – so that we can maximise the payments to farmers. That’s the reason why we chose 2017 as the updated reference year, as that was the year there was the biggest number sheep in the country.

“So, I’ll be looking to taking a similar approach for the new CAP – so that it is as beneficial as possible to farmers.”

Lastly, a general comment made by many farmers tuning into the webinar to the minister was: ‘Is €12/ewe really sufficient for the vulnerable low-income hill sheep sector?’

Responding to this, the minister said: “I take that point. I know there is disappointment there that the funding isn’t higher.

“Obviously, I have outlined the significant additional funding for Pillar II across the board and the fact that there is a sheep scheme starting off, considering there wasn’t one at the start of the last CAP.

“The CAP can evolve and as it does evolve and moving from budget to budget, I’ll be looking to see how I can further support the sector, but at this point I have to work with the budget I have secured and the marker I have laid down for it for now, but I do take the point, I know you can never do enough to support the sector,” the minister concluded.