Sheep producers in Northern Ireland have to apply for Covid-19 wool industry job support measures before August 12, Agriculture Minister Edwin Putz confirmed last week. This measure requires a one-time payment of 1.40 pounds (1.65 euros) for each eligible sheep.
The 1.2 million pounds (1.41 million euros) support fund is calculated based on the total loss of wool from the wool clip in 2019 and 2020 calculated by the Ministry of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA).
This amount is divided by the number of breeding ewes and lambs/ewes placed in rams recorded in the 2019 sheep inventory job report. The aid payment is a contribution to the losses suffered by farmers due to market disruption through Covid-19.
There are other government support measures; the compensation rate for losses incurred is 80% to avoid excessive compensation for losses. After all, the actual numbers calculated for the plan are not really important here. But the principle behind Edwin Poots’ decision to truly support wool is.
I see no reason why the Irish government cannot take similar steps. Irish wool prices floored last year at the height of the pandemic, and the farmers who took the brunt of all this were hill flock owners. These people had no lambs to sell last spring but still had to incur the cost of shearing their sheep.
The level of aid available to flock owners in Northern Ireland right now equates, somewhat, to the cost of shearing a ewe – if a contractor is brought in to do the job. Surely this is the benchmark, which the Irish government should be able to accommodate in equal measure.
It should be noted that Ulster Wool, a farmer-owned cooperative, has been at the forefront of lobbying Northern Ireland wool to support payments.
More importantly, Edwin Poots approved his discussion with Ulster Wool and decided on the matter. In addition, the wool industry has its own infrastructure jobs, including shearing, on-site harvesting and subsequent distribution. All of this amounts to a lot of work. The Irish government certainly has the responsibility to protect valuable employment opportunities in rural areas.