Deepening crisis in Irish sheep sector

A Sheep Vision group established last year hasn’t even met yet

Huge drop in price leaving farmers losing money ‘hand over fist’

Sligo News File

ICSA Sheep Committee Chairman Sean McNamara has said he is appalled by the lack of urgency at government level over the worsening situation in the sheep industry.

Sean McNamara, Chairman, ICSA Sheep Committee

Hitting out, he said a Sheep Vision group set up in 2022 has still never met.

Branding it “disgraceful given what is currently going on in the sector,” he said agriculture minister McConalogue “must get this group going and he must do it without delay.

“The clock is now ticking for sheep farmers because they cannot see a way to keep producing if all they are doing is losing money hand over fist.

“Teagasc has said the net margin per ewe in 2022 was just €7, down from €39 per ewe the previous year. That is a drop of over 80% at a time when our costs have gone through the roof.

“We were low-income in 2021 but we are no income now and we cannot survive as a sector without serious intervention.

“Processors, retailers, and Department of Agriculture officials all need to get around the table with sheep farmer representatives and plot a way forward.

“The Minister has a responsibility to make this happen; he needs to get the Sheep Vision group going and find a way of keeping sheep farming viable.”



More than two thousand applications for Organics Scheme: ICSA

Acceptance notifications following in weeks

Sligo News File

Some 2,134 farmers are seeking admission to the government’s Organics Scheme, according to the ICSA

The news has been welcomed by the association’s Organics chairman Fergal Byrne. Notifications of acceptance are due to be issued over the next ‘four to six weeks’, he said

Speaking following a meeting of the Organics Strategy Forum held in Backweston, he also indicated that farmers will have another opportunity to join the Organics Scheme in October.

‘Farming families living with fear and worry about their safety and the safety and security of their property and livestock’ ICSA


 Sligo News File

Pictured (L-R) at Thursday’s meeting: Assistant Garda Commissioner Paula Hilman (Roads Policing & Community Engagement), ICSA Rural Development chair Tim Farrell, ICSA Sheep chair Sean McNamara, Chief Superintendent Padraig Jones and ICSA general Secretary Eddie Punch.


A delegation from ICSA has on Thursday held discussions with Assistant Garda Commissioner Paula Hilman (Roads Policing & Community Engagement), and Chief Superintendent Padraig Jones on a range of serious issues affecting rural Ireland. Speaking following the meeting ICSA Rural Development chair Tim Farrell said, “We are here today representing farming families around the country who are living with fear and worry about their own safety and the safety and security of their property and livestock.”

Continuing Mr Farrell said, “Trespassing and general intimidation on one’s own land is a major concern for ICSA. Encountering trespassers on your farm be they hunters with dogs or there for other reasons unbeknown to you can be a very traumatic event, particularly if abusive language, intimidation, or physical aggression is meted out by these unwelcome parties. Trespassing is a serious offence and providing the resources necessary to allow people feel safe in and on their own property needs to be a priority.

“Livestock theft is another big issue. Cases are increasing and will continue to increase unless we see a real crackdown. Cattle out on grass and sheep grazing will always be vulnerable no matter what precautions farmers take so a concerted effort is needed to track down where these animals are ending up and putting a stop to it.”

ICSA Sheep chair Sean McNamara – also in attendance at today’s meeting – raised the continuing problem of livestock worrying. “There have been too many attacks on sheep recently. The sheer devastation that unsupervised dogs are causing on farms is heart breaking. We welcome the involvement of An Garda Síochána in the new working group on the control of dogs but we again stressed the importance of greater enforcement of existing dog control laws.”


The sector is in crisis with prices set to dip below €6/kg

Sligo News File

Chairman of the ICSA sheep committee Sean McNamara has said sheep farmers urgently need answers as to what supports will be forthcoming as prices look set to plummet even further.

Sean McNamara, Chairman, ICSA Sheep Committee

“Sheep farmers need help; it’s as simple as that. Prices look set to dip below €6/kg this week which is a travesty when you consider how much our input costs have gone up,” he said.

“The sector is in crisis and it’s about time the Government acknowledged this. This time last year we were getting €7.30/kg; to survive this year we need at least a euro more than that but now we are hearing of prices going as low as €5.80/kg from  Monday.”

Mr McNamara said the influx of New Zealand lamb into the EU as well as the continuous importation of UK lamb into this country is driving local producers out of business.

“Imports of New Zealand lamb into China have been halted which is having a massive knock-on effect as New Zealand lamb is now flooding our traditional EU markets. We really need Bord Bia to step up and market our product properly so that consumers will choose Irish lamb above anything else.

“We also need our processors to show some solidarity with their suppliers. For a start they could stop bringing in so much lamb from the UK – both live and in carcass form.

“There is no reason for shipments of UK lamb to be arriving on these shores week after week. It’s a blatant attack on local suppliers because we know it’s being done purely to keep prices here at an unrealistic and unsustainably low level.

“This is disgraceful as it’s costing sheep farmers significantly more than ever before to feed concentrates to finish lambs and keep in-lambs ewes fed and healthy. These additional costs need to be factored in by the processors – not ignored.

“…we need a fair price for our product. A fair price is one that covers our cost of production at the very least. This should not be too much to ask for when we are producing a top-quality, nutritious product.

“However, the reality is that we are further away from a fair price than ever. The sector is at a tipping point and without serious government intervention there is a risk of it being obliterated completely.”

Mr McNamara urged consumers to always choose locally produced Irish lamb.

“Nothing compares to Irish lamb in terms of quality, freshness, and taste. Always choose Irish lamb and support local farmers.”

Government needs to understand that food and energy security are now seriously at stake in Ireland and across the EU: Kelleher

‘Farmers cannot continue to supply food at current prices in the face of runaway inflation in inputs like fuel, fertiliser, and feed’

Sligo News File 

Dermot Kelleher, president, Irish Cattle & Sheep Farmers Association

ICSA president Dermot Kelleher said that the government needs to understand that food and energy security are now seriously at stake in Ireland and across the EU. Following last night’s meeting between the three ministers in the Department of Agriculture and the farm organisations, Mr Kelleher emphasised that farmers cannot continue to supply food at current prices in the face of runaway inflation in inputs like fuel, fertiliser, and feed.

“ICSA strongly argued that agricultural diesel would have to be supported as much as auto diesel. This morning’s announcement on a 15-20c/L cut on auto fuels but just 2c/L for green diesel is a red rag to a bull for farmers. Some people who drive to work can work from home, but you can’t work from home if you are cutting silage. The Minister for Agriculture must now immediately get a solution in talks with the Minister for Finance for a real solution on the green diesel price. We also argued for a voucher to help lower-income small and medium-sized farmers buy fertiliser.

“It is simply untenable to expect farmers to keep producing food with rapidly escalating costs. We have spent the last few years fighting very hard to keep European food security as a central objective in the CAP but too many so-called experts in Brussels were too complacent and wanted to create a CAP that was actively trying to reduce food production.

“We also argued strongly that now is the time to deliver an ambitious action plan to ramp up renewable energy production in the EU. We need a roadmap to help farmers to deliver a massive increase in biogas, biofuel, and solar energy. This means no more sitting on the fence at bureaucratic level and it means a stable pricing environment at a viable price over a ten-year period to make such investments feasible.

“The reality is that the Ukraine tragedy is very much linked to Europe’s reckless dependency on Russian gas and oil, which has made the EU members very weak in taming Putin’s expansionist strategy. The frustrating thing is that there is massive potential for farmers to deliver much more renewable energy, which is also positive on the climate agenda, as well as helping rural communities. It would also help farmers to ride out input cost spikes if they had other income streams alongside food production.

“The farm organisations were very frustrated that there seemed to be a lack of ideas at government level, judging by last night’s meeting, and although we welcome the immediate setting up of a food security committee, it is now urgent that the government bring forward concrete proposals to help counteract rocketing costs.”

Three arrested for questioning following burglary in Skreen

Elderly resident suffered serious injuries in attack at his home

Sligo News File

Arrests have been made following a burglary at the home of an elderly resident in Skreen.

Three persons are being held for questioning in connection with the incident.

Tom Niland, 73, suffered head and upper body injuries when he was attacked at his residence in January. He is still in a serious condition on a ventilator at University Hospital Sligo.


‘…no point trying to reinvent the wheel if the basics are not right…’

Dermot Kelleher, president. Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers Association

ICSA president Dermot Kelleher has said that “there is no point trying to reinvent the wheel if the basics are not right, in relation to Department plans to ramp up crop production in response to the Ukraine-Russia war. We need to focus on fuel and fertiliser costs before talking about increasing crop production.” Mr Kelleher was speaking in advance of the meeting between the main farm bodies and Minister McConalogue, scheduled to take place tomorrow, Tues 8 March.

“Before any plans are hatched to substantially increase crop production, we need to make sure that adequate supplies of grass and silage are maintained. This is not straightforward due to the catastrophic increase in fertiliser and fuel costs. Many cattle and sheep farmers are going to struggle to make the normal quantities of silage unless something is done about escalating costs. That is why ICSA is proposing a fertiliser voucher of €2,000, as a subsidy to buy up to €4,000 worth of fertiliser. This is targeted at lower income cattle and sheep farms who are not getting help from either dairy co-ops or banks.

“However, more will have to be done. It makes no sense to talk about growing more crops with the escalating cost of fuel. ICSA believes that a rebate on green diesel to significantly reduce its cost will be essential even for normal grassland operations such as silage. Eliminating VAT on green diesel is not a panacea because it is charged at the lower 13% rate and because most agri-contractors, and some farmers can reclaim it anyway.

“ICSA agrees that we need to grow more grain in Ireland. However, it is not a simple matter of waving a magic wand. Unless the government comes forward with substantial proposals on fuel and fertiliser it is a waste of time. Even then, there are substantial problems including the lack of grain storage, the availability of extra tillage contracting capacity and basic tillage skills are non-existent on a lot of grass farms.

“ICSA believes that the current crisis is a real wake-up call for EU and national decision makers. For years, we have talked about two critical issues – the need for food security and the need to enable EU farmers to ramp up renewable energy production. Unfortunately, both of these have been side-lined by the out of touch EU Farm to Fork and Biodiversity strategies. In particular, we have to re-examine the CAP focus on lowering production which will turn out disastrous given what is going on in Ukraine.”


‘It cannot be emphasised strongly enough that ICSA and others warned the Minister and his officials at the very outset that the scheme was unworkable’

Sligo News File

Edmund Graham, chairman ICSA Beef Committee

ICSA Beef chair Edmund Graham has said the final figures for the BEAM scheme show what a spectacular mess was made of devising a scheme that was meant to help farmers in deep difficulty. “It is a stunning indictment of the Department that a scheme that was meant to deliver €100 million to farmers has ended up delivering about €60 million. Lessons must be learned from this.

“It cannot be emphasised strongly enough that ICSA and others warned the Minister and his officials at the very outset that the scheme was unworkable. It all went wrong when officials accepted unworkable conditionality in the EU regulations for a scheme that was specifically tailored for Ireland.

“Lessons must be learned. This fad for conditionality is creeping in more and more and it must be tackled head on. Either there is a case to help farmers or there isn’t. In the case of BEAM, farmers had suffered a serious price collapse due to Brexit disruption which was not their fault. The EU and the Department of Public Expenditure both accepted that there was a case to help farmers in trouble and accordingly allocated €100 million.

“The initial application process showed that farmers foresaw difficulties with the scheme as their applications were for about €78 million. However, the final results show that about 11,000 of the 33,00 applicants will be subjected to clawbacks, and some 95% of those will lose the full payment.

“This is shocking stuff. ICSA has been contacted by members who are now in deep difficulty. In some cases, the immediate clawback of €10,000 is causing serious cash flow stresses. It is very wrong that to add insult to injury, these farmers are being threatened with punitive interest charges. ICSA is insisting that farmers should not be charged interest especially given that Irish government bonds are at close to zero rates.

“However, the big lesson that must be taken from this is that the Department must engage in a meaningful way at an early stage with farm representatives when designing schemes, in order to iron out problems. Unfortunately, the trend in recent years has been to present schemes as a done deal far too late in the process.

In addition, the Department has allowed Brussels to impose its views, even though it is evident that the EU has increasingly taken an idealistic view in relation to policy which is divorced from reality on the ground. This must be challenged, and it is particularly relevant to the CAP plan. We need our Minister to do much more to engage with farm representatives and to stand up to EU bureaucrats.” 


‘If a farmer deems that it is not appropriate for horses and hounds to pass through their land on a particular date, then those wishes should be respected’

Sligo News File

Dermot Kelleher, president. Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers Association

ICSA president Dermot Kelleher has called on all hunts to respect the wishes of farmers when it comes to accessing their lands. “There can be all sorts of reasons why a farmer may not want a hunt to cross their farm. So, if a farmer deems that that it is not appropriate for horses and hounds to pass through their land on a particular date, then those wishes should be respected,” he said.

According to Horse Sport Ireland there are over 30,000 mounted hunt followers and 300 hunt clubs in every corner of the country. Hunting constitutes the largest equestrian activity in Ireland during the hunting season which runs from October to March.

Mr Kelleher said, “It is now the busiest time of year on most farms with sheep lambing, and cows calving. Many farmers are on duty 24 hours a day and it is unacceptable that a farmer should receive a text message informing them that a hunt will cross their farm the following day, and to make sure their cattle are in, and their sheep are out of the way. That’s just not good enough.

“The time for getting farmers’ consent is when these events are being planned and routes are being decided. And if you do not have the explicit consent of the farmer, then you must choose an alternative route.

“Working farms are not playgrounds; livestock can be dangerous, and they can equally be panicked by the appearance of a fast-moving hunt and excitable hounds. In the interest of fostering good relationships with local farmers I would urge all clubs to seek consent well in advance of any hunt taking place and to respect the decision of any farmer who says they cannot accommodate a hunt during these busy times.”

Elderly victim of ‘vicious and cowardly’ attack by masked men at his West Sligo home now on life support

He was removed to University Hospital Sligo with ‘serious’ injuries to his head and body

Sligo News File

Gardai in Sligo have condemned the attack on an elderly man at Skreen as “vicious and cowardly.”

Tom Niland, 73, a bachelor was severely beaten when three masked men entered his home where he lives alone at Doonfin, close to the N59, on January 18th.
A small sum of money was taken.

He was removed to University Hospital, Sligo, with injuries to his head and body described by gardai as serious. It’s understood that his condition has since deteriorated and he is now on life support.

Gardaí set up checkpoints and house-to-house inquiries were carried out following the attack.  The scene of the crime has been examined by the Garda Technical Bureau and CCTV footage inspected.

A garda liaison officer has been appointed to the victim’s family while the incident is being investigated.



Closure of Sligo’s B Braun plant at Collooney

Loss of more than 80 jobs

Sligo News File

The B Braun manufacturing site at Collooney is reportedly set to be wound down over the next 18 months with the loss of 80 jobs to the county Sligo town.

A key player in the State’s health sector, it is involved in providing care, services and products throughout the country. The company is part of the B Braun global group, which has been operating in Ireland for more than 40 years.





‘Reports are coming in of a very heavy-handed cut-off point of €135.00/hd being imposed on carcase weights of 25kg and over’

Sligo News File

Sean McNamara, Chairman, ICSA Sheep Sector Committee

ICSA sheep chairman Sean McNamara has said farmers should not accept any less than €7.00/kg for hoggets over the coming weeks. “Factories are doing everything in their power to chip away at prices so we must do everything in our power to resist them,” he said.

“As sheep farmers our cost of production is upwards of €7.00/kg and rising all the time, so we are only demanding what is fair. It is imperative that we hold the line at €7.00/kg at the very minimum. We know the demand is there when we see factory agents heading to the marts and buying up all around them, with heavy ewe lambs in particular making €10-€15/hd more than they are making in the factories.

“We must remember all this happening as factories continue to bring in truckloads of live lambs – as well as lamb in carcase form – from the north and elsewhere. This is an on-going practice and can only be described as a cynical attempt to weaken the negotiating position of local suppliers. This is what we are up against, and this is why we all must hold firm on prices when selling our stock that we have worked so hard to produce.”

Mr McNamara was also critical of factories heavily penalising carcases of 25kg and above. “Reports are coming in of a very heavy-handed cut-off point of €135.00/hd being imposed on carcase weights of 25kg and over. At €7.00/kg these lambs should be hitting the €161.00 mark with a 23kg weight limit. That is a €26.00 hit that no sheep farmer can afford. Anyone with heavier lambs would be well advised to go to the mart instead.”


‘A recent change to rules allowing farmers to buy in cattle has been complicated by the addition of extra paperwork and possible additional testing requirements, in respect of animals being moved in’ 

Sligo News File

Hugh Farrell, Chairman ICSA Animal Health & Welfare Committee

 ICSA Animal Health and Welfare chairman Hugh Farrell has said that “ICSA is opposing the imposition of pre or post movement testing in relation to TB restricted farmers buying in cattle for further feeding until we have certainty that the Department will pay for these tests.”  

Continuing Mr Farrell said, “For several years, farmers who do not have feedlot status have been prevented from buying in cattle while restricted, until such time as they have a clear test. However, with a lot of pressure, a recent change to rules has allowed farmers to buy in cattle. Unfortunately, this has been complicated by the addition of extra paperwork and possible additional testing requirements, in respect of animals being moved in. 

“ICSA believes that no farmer should sign up to a pre or post movement test until the Department agrees to pay for it. We are also concerned about all sorts of additional bureaucratic requirements that are making life difficult for farmers who want to buy in stock for finishing. For example, farmers are being asked to provide complicated documentation of where badger sets are located along with detailed maps.

“ICSA stands by the principle that a farmer should only be required to pay for one annual test per annum. This issue of preventing people buying in cattle has long been a contentious issue. ICSA has fought hard to support farmers who need to buy in finishing cattle, and who do not have feedlot status. A farmer who depends on buying in cattle at exactly the right time (depending on availability of grass or fodder, price considerations, length of keep etc) is hugely disadvantaged if they cannot buy in. We have made some progress to get this accepted in principle, but the problem is that we see the Department coming up with bureaucratic barriers to prevent it happening in practice. No one should be entitled to deprive anyone from earning a living.” 

Mr Farrell expressed frustration that the TB Forum process was making very slow progress in relation to this and other TB issues. “I fought very hard to get this issue resolved at this week’s TB Implementation Committee. We haven’t had a TB Finance Committee meeting in months due to operational issues. ICSA understands that this is now resolved, and we will fight very hard that new measures cannot be agreed until outstanding financial issues are resolved in tandem.”