Farm Ireland

Thursday 23 November 2017

Details still not released on sheep fencing plan

Talks on €8m scheme continue

Declan O'Brien

Declan O'Brien

Talks are continuing between Department of Agriculture officials and the IFA on the details of the €8m sheep fencing and mobile-handling scheme, although differences have arisen regarding farmer eligibility for the package.

A Department spokesman insisted the scheme would be open to farmers by November 1 but he would not be drawn on the specifics of the initiative.

However, it has emerged that priority is to be given to certain categories of applicants.

These include farmers who are under-35, those in Disadvantaged Areas and farmers involved in the sheep improvement programme.

It is understood that the Department has also proposed giving priority to farmers involved in lamb quality-assurance schemes.

The scheme guidelines specify that the eligible grant aid is 40pc of total expenditure and is capped at a maximum of €4,000. Since the total fund is limited to €8m, access to the grants is likely to be limited to around 2,500 farmers.

IFA sheep committee chairman James Murphy said the IFA has objected strongly to the restrictive eligibility and selection criteria being imposed by the Department, which, he said, would deny genuine sheep farmers the opportunity to apply for the scheme.

Mr Murphy said the move by the Department to try and introduce selection criteria based on the lowest cost estimate from applicants was unacceptable. He said this was a clear attempt to pitch farmer against farmer in "a race to the bottom".

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The IFA sheep farmers' leader called on Agriculture Minister Brendan Smith to abandon the current selection criteria and to 'front load' the allocation of funds to the scheme so as to allow farmers complete investments immediately.

He said Mr Smith should also honour the Government's commitment to prioritise applications from those farmers who were unfairly locked out of the Farm Improvement Scheme (FIS) in 2007.

Mr Murphy pointed out that there was huge farmer interest in the scheme and he said progress had been made in the talks between the IFA and Department officials.

"The Department indicated it was prepared to amend the specifications which caused difficulties when the FIS operated for a short period in 2007," Mr Murphy said.

It had been accepted that costings for both the handling facilities and fencing have to be realistic and cover the actual cost incurred, he added.

On fencing, Mr Murphy said both 6ft and 9ft square wire was acceptable and the Department would allow for two strands of barbed wire or electric fence on top of the sheep wire.

He said the sheep wire must be high tensile and conform to IS 10223. Stakes must conform to the IS436 standard, be dried and pressure-treated with an approved preservative.

However, the Department has insisted that the grant aid will be restricted to mobile-handling facilities as this has been set out in the scheme's details sent to Brussels for approval.

Irish Independent