Sheep farmers in Northern Ireland need a tailored welfare payment system, according to a farmer-director of the co-op, Ulster Wool.

Brendan Kelly has issued a warning that Northern Ireland’s sheep sector needs to be more adequately supported and that farmers urgently need financial support.

Kelly said: “There are no specific support proposals for sheep within the package of post-Brexit support measures identified by former Minister for Agriculture, Edwin Poots.

“This is fundamentally wrong. We are already seeing farmers leaving the sector and I fear this trend will gather further momentum during the period ahead.”

Kelly said he is also concerned about the age profile of farmers within the sheep industry.

He said “there are no young people coming into the industry” and he believes that many of those working with sheep will be “retiring in the near future.”

Kelly believes that the introduction of a sheep welfare payment system, similar to that already operating in the south of Ireland, could deliver much-needed financial support for sheep farmers, north of the border.

“An annual payment in the region of £12/ewe would make all the difference in this regard.

“I am fully aware of the fact that the Ulster Farmers’ Union has already met with Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs officials on these matters.

“At the end of the day, this all comes down to budgets. However, where sheep are concerned, the need for money to future proof the sector is acute. And the clock is ticking,” he said.

Ulster Wool has recently confirmed prices being paid to members for last year’s wool clip.

Personalised letters were sent to members this month that outlined that the total value of their 2022 wool, with core grades achieving 30p/kg and Blackface wool 20p/kg – exact prices depended on grade and type of wool.

Fleeces from organic flocks also attracted a premium of 70p/kg for core types.

Andrew Hogley, chief executive of Ulster Wool, said the co-op understood that the prices had disappointed its members – particularly on the back of falling lamb prices and other difficulties in the wider industry.

“We are frustrated too. Global prices have been under pressure in recent months and this, alongside the cost inflation experienced by the wider industry, had created ‘significant difficulties’ in the marketplace.”