“The margin has dropped from €39/ewe to €7/ewe in the last twelve months, which is a major amount. I am not operating at a loss, but I am close to it.”
Those are the sentiments of one of the country’s largest sheep farmers, Brian Nicholson, Co Kilkenny, who has steadily increased his flock to over 1,100 ewes since taking the enterprise’s reins from his parents fifteen years ago.
During Thursday’s (February 9th, 2023) episode of Ear to the Ground, he highlighted how “costs have eaten away at the margin that we are getting”.
Nicholson, who farms just outside of Johnstown, Co Kilkenny, told presenter, Helen Carroll: “As a result, the farm’s profitability has majorily reduced in the last twelve months. Input costs have just continued to rise nearly weekly.”
“Everyone knows about fertiliser and fuel increases, but for the likes of vaccines, some have gone up by 15%, and [the price of] some doses have increased by 30%.
“Sheep dip has gone up 30% as well. These are all things that we need to have to keep a healthy flock.”
“I have less of an income, but the farm is making a small profit. We can only control as much inside the farm gate as we can, so we have to be strategic in how we use all the inputs on the farm.”
Over the last year, he has executed some changes on his farm in the form of pushing his lambing dates out later into the spring, planting forage crops and reducing concentrated feed use in a bid to reduce higher production costs.
Soaring production costs come at a time of reduced prices at factory level for sheep and a “steady” decline in lamb consumption in Ireland, with recent figures suggesting that sheepmeat now only accounts for 3% of meat consumed here.
“I think some things are very straightforward. I mean, if there was an incentive to get wool used within the housing industry for insulation.”
“Wool is a great natural product, but it is underutilised. It is costing me roughly €2.70/sheep for shearing, and we are dumping a product that could produce clothes and keep people warm.”
Erica O’Keeffe, who previously featured in the food, farming and rural affairs series, saw her 150-ewe flock dwindle to the point last spring where she had to take action to make a living.
She explained: “I decided that I was going to go looking and get a job to try to supplement my farm income.”
“I am not the only farmer that has taken that decision, but it is just in order to survive.”
Commenting on the new €12/ewe Sheep Improvement Scheme, she said: “€12/ewe would not buy you a bag of meal for sheep at the minute.”
“Basically, we are selling our lambs below the cost of production at the minute, and unless we get some kind of support in the sector, we are just not going to be able to make money out of it anymore.”
“I have been sheep farming since I was young, and while it is very intense during lambing season, there is a lot of work involved, and it is very rewarding to go out and see lambs running around the field in spring; you would like to be rewarded for what you do as well,” she concluded.
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