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Coughlan launches Package for Sheep Sector

The Minister for Agriculture and Food, Mary Coughlan, today announced the details of the comprehensive package of support measures which she is proposing to put in place for the important sheep sector. The Minister expressed her appreciation for the valuable work carried out last year by the sheep strategy development study group that reported in June 2006 and the strategy implementation group which reported in April 2007. Minister Coughlan said that as a result she is now in a position to announce the full range of measures she intends to introduce to secure the future of the sector, a sector so important to preserving our rural economy, landscape and environment.

Exchequer funding for some of the proposals is contained in the Rural Development Programme, currently with the European Commission for approval, while funding of other proposals is contained in the Public Service Estimates for Government spending in 2007.

The Minister said that the sheep sector would benefit substantially from the following proposals:

REPS - New Supplementary Measure aimed at Sheep Farmers
  • Sheep farmers are major beneficiaries under REPS. There are 22,000 sheep farmers already in this scheme and this is expected to increase under REPS 4 so that there will be up to 80% of all sheep farmers participating. Under the new programme an increase in base rates of 17% has already been proposed.
  • A fresh proposal has now been submitted to the EU to introduce a new REPS supplementary measure on sheep. The purpose of this measure is to support the mixed grazing of sheep and cattle that would yield both environmental and sector development benefits. The practice of mixed grazing is beneficial both to the protection of biodiversity and to traditional landscapes. Mixed grazing management systems result in a more diverse sward with an increase in flora and fauna. They also contribute to animal welfare by facilitating mixed/rotational grazing, thus reducing stomach parasite load. This special measure is designed to encourage sheep farmers to stay in the sector and prepare for continued strong competition from other meats.
  • It is proposed that payment will be at the rate of €50 per hectare on up to 20 hectares. A farmer undertaking this Supplementary Measure in REPS would maintain sheep numbers equivalent to a stocking density of at least 0.5 livestock units (three to four sheep) per qualifying hectare. While all farmers with sheep may participate it is proposed that those with commonage will only qualify in respect of their 'green land'. Maximum payment of €1,000 per year would be paid to a farmer who has at least 20 hectares of lowland and keeps a minimum of 70 sheep with three cows. This will bring the increase in the average REPS payment to sheep farmers under REPS 4 to over 30%. The additional payment to sheep farmers from the Supplementary Measure above will represent over €14 per ewe for up to 70 sheep.
  • A budget of €28m a year has been allocated to fund the proposed new Supplementary Measure at an overall cost of over €170m for the period to 2013.
Single Payment Scheme National Reserve - Special Measure for Sheep Farmers
  • Certain sheep farmers with commonage land and a relatively low stocking density were prevented from increasing ewe numbers during the reference period pending the publication of commonage framework plans. A special category was created for these farmers in the 2005 National Reserve under which some 500 hill sheep farmers benefit to the tune of €400,000 annually or €2.8m over the next seven years.
  • In addition, a special category is included under the 2007 National Reserve for sheep farmers whose existing Single Payment is less than €6,000, where at least 40% of their Single Payment was derived from direct payments associated with sheep production during the reference period and where individual entitlements are less than the District Electoral Division (DED) average. Allocations will be capped at the DED average value of entitlements or a total Single Payment of ?6,000 whichever is the lesser and allocations to successful applicants will not exceed €1,000. It is estimated that some 7,500 sheep farmers will receive over €6m annually under the new National Reserve measure or €42m over the next 7 years.
Increase in compensatory allowances
  • Compensatory allowances are to increase by 8% this year which it is estimated will yield additional benefits under this heading in the region of €40m for the sheep sector over those seven years.
On Farm Investment - New Sheep Handling Facilities to be included
  • New special funding for investments on sheep farms to include handling facilities, mobile units and fencing is also amongst the on-farm investment proposals in the Rural Development Programme which is currently being finalised. The value of this measure to sheep farmers will depend on uptake. However, it could reasonably be expected to deliver in excess of €5m to sheep farmers.
Breeding Improvement - Increased funding for ICBF for Sheep Breeding
  • A total of up to €3m additional funding will be provided by the Department to ICBF over the next three years to cover the infrastructural costs of developing a comprehensive sheep breed improvement programme. This will be operated in the main with the co-operation of the pedigree sheep breed societies and commercial producers.
Scrapie Eradication and National Genotype Programme - Improved Incentives
  • The Department operates a policy of active surveillance at slaughterhouses and knackeries for the detection of scrapie. Infected flocks are genotyped and the scrapie-susceptible animals removed. The Department assists the affected flock owners by providing free genotyping and pays market value for animals required to be disposed of and a payment of €84 per breeding ewe.
  • Under the National Genotyping Programme, the Department will make a contribution of €50 towards the cost of one veterinarian visit per flock to take samples and compensation will be paid in respect of category 4 and 5 male sheep, i.e. those that, having been genotyped, are regarded as susceptible or highly susceptible to scrapie. In addition, flock-owners can avail of Department-subsidised testing arrangements to genotype their sheep. The situation on scrapie remains under active review at EU level.
Processing - €50m Investment Aid Scheme to include Sheep Processing Sector
  • A Capital Investment Support Scheme was recently announced, directed towards improving efficiency and competitiveness in both the beef and sheepmeat primary processing sectors. The support package, amounting to ?50 million, should trigger overall investment of some €120 million.
Carcase Classification - Mechanical Grading for Sheep Sector
  • Subject to the industry developing proposals on the introduction of carcase classification by mechanical means for sheepmeat processing plants, the sector could gain from a further injection of state funds to finance trials and possibly provide assistance towards the purchase and installation costs of the highly specialised equipment involved. Mechanical grading by sheep processors will underpin a move by the industry to paying for quality product. This approach was adopted by the Department in relation to the introduction of carcase classification by machine in the beef sector and proved very successful.
Quality Assurance Scheme for Lamb
  • The Department will provide special funding of up to ?1.2m over the next three years to kick-start the establishment and operation of a Quality Assurance Scheme for Lamb along the lines of the support currently provided for the EN45011 Scheme for beef.
Teagasc and Bord Bia - State Agencies to increase support for Sheep Sector
  • Both State Bodies have developed plans which will involve increased resources and funding in the areas of research, advice, training and promotion in the sheep sector targeted in line with the strategy recommendations.

Minister Coughlan invited all elements of this important sector to be proactive in the implementation of these measures. The Minister said: "I am delighted to be in a position today to announce serious progress on implementing all of the recommendations in the Sheep Strategy Report and in addition the new REPS measure which will deliver the direct incentive to sheep farmers to stay in the business. Funding alone, however, is not sufficient. I am confident that the comprehensive package of measures now being adopted will secure the full commitment of all those involved in the sector and the result will be a more efficient, competitive and profitable sheep industry at all levels."

16 May 2007

Date Released: 16 May 2007