By FWi staff

DATES for applying for sheep annual premium and for retaining eligible ewes have been changed on both sides of the Irish border, much to the chagrin of farmer organisations.

For next years scheme, producers will have to submit their claims between 4 December, 2001, and 4 January, 2002, a week later than previously. The 100-day retention period will duly run out on 14 April, 2002, rather than 7 April.

Explaining the change, Northern Ireland agriculture minister, Brid Rodgers, said it would avoid the difficulties of closing the application period at Christmas.

“And it keeps Northern Ireland sheep producers on an equal footing with those in the Irish Republic,” she added.

But this has drawn a swift rebuke from the Ulster Farmers Union. “The government appears to be set on making life more difficult for sheep farmers,” it said.

“An end date to retention no later than 7 April would be the most manageable in terms of sheepmeat marketing and replacement of post-lambing ewe losses.”

In the Republic, the Irish Farmers Association had called for a staggered retention period, to run for 100 days from the day an application was lodged, rather than from the end of the claim period.

“That would make for a much smoother flow of sheep to market rather than the current rush,” said IFA livestock adviser, Kevin Kinsella.