Delegates attending this morning’s Agri Food Business Partners conference in Dublin were told that Government must do more to support the needs of the sheep industry.

Irish Country Meats’ managing director Joe Hyland said 2013 had been a good year for the sheep sector. “But the reality remains that breeding ewe numbers fell by almost one million between 2005 and 2010,” he added.

“And, at the very least, we must recover this fall in output moving forward.”

Mr Hyland went on to point out that the general market outlook for sheepmeat in many countries around the world is extremely positive.

“We currently export the vast bulk of our produce to Europe. I envisage this changing with markets such as China and the US becoming more important. However, we must never overlook the fact that, within the Muslim world, sheepmeat is the animal protein source of preference,” he stressed.

“The increased demand for sheepmeat in China may well be met by New Zealand. However, this will open up new markets for Ireland in other countries around the world. I also predict a growing demand for Irish lamb on the East Coast of America. This reflects the strong Irish diaspora in that region.”

“Irish lamb symbolises perfectly the green, clean image of Irish food. We have a good story to tell: it’s all about communicating this core message internationally.

Looking to the future, Joe Hyland commented on the need for government to support the development of new lamb processing centres, which will allow the industry add more value to the sheep coming off Irish farms.

“We are already doing a good job  in this regard. But much more is required.”

Turning to the new Common Agricultural Policy support measures the Irish Country Meats’ representative said that the current proposal to Sheep Grassland Payment into the new single farm payment structure had not gone down well at producer level.

“Agriculture Minister Coveney may wish to reconsider this matter. However, there has been a general welcome from farmers for the proposed GLAS scheme, which is a fundamental driver within the new Rural Development Programme.”

Hyland concluded: “The sheepmeat sector has a lot to offer Ireland’s agrifood industry moving forward. Bur it’s important for this potential to be fully recognised by Government and all relevant stakeholder groups.”