‘There is untapped potential on hill farms that we need to exploit’ – Gerry Boyle

“There is untapped potential on hill farms that we need to exploit going forward into the future,” according to Gerry Boyle of Teagasc.

Boyle was speaking today, Wednesday, February 19, at the Teagasc Hill Sheep Conference, at the Jacksons Hotel, in Ballybofey, Co. Donegal.

There was a plethora of speakers on the night, which included Orla Keane and Cathal Buckley of Teagasc.

Furthermore, Eileen McCloskey of the College of Agriculture, Food and Rural Enterprise (CAFRE), Brendan Dunford, who is the manager of the Burren Programme and Declan Byrne, who is the project manager of the Sustainable Uplands Agri-Environment Scheme (SUAS), all gave presentations on various projects they are involved in – on how to maintain High Nature Value Upland (HNV) farmlands.

The presentations delivered on the night are listed (below):

  • Anthelmintic resistance of stomach and gut worms in sheep;
  • Sustainability and public good provision of hill sheep farms;
  • An integrated approach to sheep farming in the hills and uplands;
  • Supporting farmers to deliver better economic, social and environmental outcomes on their land;
  • Update on the SUAS;
  • The Inishowen Uplands European Innovation Partnership (EIP) Project – how it operates and what it can contribute.

Optimistic

Speaking to the farmers present at the conference, Boyle said: “I believe sheep farmers should be optimistic for the year ahead.

“Sheep farming is a vital aspect of the agriculture industry here in Ireland. Sheep production is a significant contributor to the agricultural and national economy – producing over 67,000t of sheepmeat that are valued at €390 million.

“In 2019, over 54,000t of sheepmeat, valued at €300 million, were exported.

The sheep sector has managed to forge new markets, which have become extremely important of late due to Brexit.

“With that in mind, the fact that there are six Irish sheep processing plants now eligible to export Irish sheepmeat; I can only be optimistic that this will result in more sheepmeat being exported and increased prices that farmers are badly in need of.

“Furthermore, hill farms play an important role in maintaining the environment. However, it needs to be sustainable going forward and farmers need to be able to make an adequate return from their farming activities.

Hill farmers are going to face challenges in terms of adapting their systems to new environmental requirements in the not-so-distant future.

“We are conscious that the low output and depressed markets for male store hill lambs have resulted in low returns for farmers in recent years.

“However, the hill ewe has significant untapped potential, and with the recent upturn in prices – for lambs – of late and the new markets that are unfolding for Irish sheepmeat, I would be optimistic for the hill sheep sector going forward,” Boyle concluded.

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