15th February, 2012
Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association (ICSA) President, Gabriel Gilmartin, said that while challenging times were ahead that overall the Irish sheep sector has a very bright future.
Speaking the ICSA National Sheep Conference for 2012, Mr. Gilmartin said that a resurgence in the sector since the slowdown in the building trade has meant the sheep industry can no longer be classified as being a sunset industry. However, Mr. Gilmartin also said that one strong year does not mean that the sector is safe.
Mr. Gilmartin said: “The future is bright for the Irish sheep sector. 2011 was a very strong year with prices never too far from €5/kg but one good year does not mean that all is secure for sheep farmers. We need a number of positive years to help stem the outflow as well as offsetting the rapid escalation of input costs.
“Even though there are signs of a lot more confidence among sheep farmers, we need to ensure that the higher level of prices is not just maintained but improved over the next three or four years before we get carried away.
“When I started out in 1982, land was costing about €40/acre to rent and lambs were selling at €80. In 2011, lambs averaged a €10 0but rental ground is going to cost €150 in 2012.
“Therefore, we need to drive on with lamb price. What should it be? Well, there is a lot of cost for the early producers who need exceptional prices to cover the huge costs and work associated with sponging, and lambing when many people are still digesting the Christmas excesses. These farmers need to be beating €7/kg by a comfortable stretch if it’s to be worthwhile.
Mr Gilmartin conceded that there may be resistance to higher prices, especially in the UK where consumption fell 20% in 2011. However, he emphasised that higher costs meant that farmers need the higher prices
Mr. Gilmatin concluded by saying that the downturn in the building industry has welcomed a number of people back to the sector: “We have seen a great deal of people return to sheep farming since the collapse of the building sector and this has been a major positive. The national flock has grown and hopefully it can continue to grow in a positive fashion. The sheep sector was at its strongest in the early ‘90s but receded with the growth of the building sector. At that time it was considered to be a sunset industry but we have witnessed a resurgence in the past few years.”