? Priority will be afforded to farmers who are between their 18th and 35th birthday on the date of application;
? Participant in a Sheep Ireland sheep breed improvement programme at the time of application;
? Priority will be given to applicants where any part of the holding that is owned or leased in a less favoured area. The items that are eligible for grant aid under the scheme include mobile specialised sheep spraying equipment, mobile sheep handling units (including footbaths), mobile weighing facilities, mobile rollover crates, mobile ‘batch' footbaths, mobile penning and fencing (excluding gates).
Mr Smith said the scheme would complement the €7m Uplands Sheep Scheme, which was launched last year, and the €54m Grassland Sheep Scheme, announced earlier this year.
“The importance of the sheep industry had been clearly identified in the Food Harvest 2020 Report, which shows that a growth in output value of 20pc is achievable by 2020,” said Mr Smith.
The scheme would help support an industry which was worth €250m to the Irish economy, he added.
IFA sheep committee chairman James Murphy welcomed the opening of the scheme. He described the initiative as a positive development for the sheep sector.
Mr Murphy said the IFA had outlined serious concerns to the minister and his Department regarding the allocation of funding under this scheme in tranches. He said the IFA sought substantial up-front funding and was disappointed with the announcement that the first tranche will be limited to only €1.148m.
In addition, he said the IFA objected to the imposition of the restrictive selection criteria proposed by the Department of Agriculture.
“Restrictive selection criteria will deny some genuine sheep farmers the opportunity to apply for the scheme. The Department move to use the farmers’ proposed or estimated costs is a new and unnecessary development. It will pitch farmer against farmer in a race to the bottom and only undermines the benefit of the scheme,” Mr Murphy said.
ICSA sheep chairman Mervyn Sunderland gave a cautious welcome to the launch of the scheme.
“ICSA welcomes the launch of the scheme. In principle, we welcome the targeted approach, which will attempt to prioritise committed sheep farmers with a minimum of 50 ewes, but we are concerned that the scheme is already looking top heavy in bureaucracy,” Mr Sunderland said.
“The effort to prioritise in the event of demand exceeding supply may give rise to anomalies that result in committed sheep farmers being ruled out,” he added.
“I am concerned about the provision to give priority to those whose proposed costs are lower than the Department’s reference costs. As we all know, the Department is not in the habit of over-estimating costs so I fail to see why farmers should be forced to pretend that costs are lower than they actually are,” Mr Sunderland said.
“The scheme also provides for prioritisation of young farmers. We favour support for young farmers but I have some concern that committed sheep farmers over 35 years old should not lose out on age grounds alone.
“Overall, the scheme is welcome and it is high time that it got going. It will provide some boost to the rural economy, which serves as a reminder that supporting viable farming makes sense as part of an economic recovery plan,” he added.