3 August 2001

Sheep payment shifts arouse ire in Ireland

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 Dec 4, 2001, and Jan 4, 2002, a week later than previously. The 100-day retention period will duly run out on Apr 14, 2002, rather than Apr 7.

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.

Mrs Rodgers also claimed that: "As with this year, an early close to the retention period should assist in the release of animals for the market."

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 Apr 7 would be the most manageable in terms of sheepmeat marketing and replacement of post-lambing ewe losses."

The Irish Farmers Association described the changes as "a backward step for the sheep trade in Ireland".

It 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.

Farm minister, Joe Walsh, said this was not a practical option for 2002, but would be pursued with the EU for future years, after the recent introduction of individual sheep identification in the Republic.

&#8226 Applications for sheep quota from the national reserve in Ireland must be submitted by Aug 31, 2001. About 200,000 units will be available, with priority given to producers with fewer than 20 livestock units (133 sheep). &#42