Farm Ireland

Saturday 20 January 2018

Sheep sector on a high after critical '11th-hour' rescue

Caitriona Murphy

Caitriona Murphy

Sheep farmers are sure to have a bit of 'pep' in their step at this year's Ploughing Championships. The past year has been a pivotal time for the sheep industry in Ireland.

Up to 12 months ago, the industry was seen as being in a state of terminal decline as more and more farmers sold off their breeding stock and the national flock halved from a high of over 5m in the 1990s to close to 2.5m today.

However, the 12pc increase in prices during 2010 has rescued the sheep sector at what some industry experts are calling the 11th hour.

IFA sheep chairman James Murphy says the price rise was badly needed.

"It has brought a level of security and stability to the sector at a critical time," he said.

The fragile confidence resulted in some very strong breeding ewe and ewe lamb prices, which is expected to boost flock numbers next year.


Many of those restocking are believed to be farmers who had let numbers dwindle but there is also evidence of new entrants coming into the sheep sector.

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The commercial benefits of the new €urostar profit index will help commercial producers choose the most profitable ram for their flock. As farmers gain confidence in the system and begin to see the difference between rams in monetary terms, the index will go from strength to strength.

Meanwhile, the opening of the €8m sheep handling scheme from the Department of Agriculture in the coming weeks will be a litmus test for the enthusiasm of farmers in the sheep industry, but is expected to attract large numbers.

The past 12 months have changed the outlook for sheep farmers considerably, but it remains to be seen what the next 12 months will bring.

Irish Independent