The new Sheep Improvement Scheme (SIS), which will the Sheep Welfare Scheme (SWS) in the new Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), opened for applications this week.
One of the big questions from farmers is what their scheme reference payment number will be.
The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM) have said that for existing sheep farmers, the scheme reference number will be based on the average of the three highest census return values of eligible breeding ewes over the years 2016–2021.
However, in instances where only two census returns have been made by the applicant over this period, the DAFM has said that the scheme payment reference number will be based on the average of the two years census returns.
Furthermore, where only one census return has been submitted during this time, the scheme payment reference number will be based on the number of eligible breeding ewes declared in that census return.
What about new entrants?
Where no census details are available to the department, in the case of an application from a new entrant to sheep farming who has yet to submit a sheep census for the first time, the scheme payment reference number will be allocated following a review of the submitted application.
This review will take into consideration the number of animals held by the applicant at the time of application, and/or, the number of animals declared on the sheep census return for the year prior to the scheme year for which the application is being made, the DAFM said.
Scheme reference number: What happens if ewe numbers change?
The scheme payment reference number will form the maximum number of breeding ewes eligible for payment for the duration of the scheme.
The scheme payment reference number will not increase for the duration of the scheme, except where an increase in stocking rates is required in the commonage measure for participants in the Agri Climate Rural Environment Scheme (ACRES), the DAFM added.
If the number of breeding ewes returned on the 2022 or later sheep census, inspection report or administrative control report is lower than the scheme payment reference number, then the new lower number will become the scheme payment reference number.
Where such circumstances occur and a higher number of breeding ewes is returned on the census in a subsequent year, then the scheme reference number for payment will increase accordingly but not beyond the original scheme payment reference number, the DAFM said.
Those applying should be aware that they are required to inform the department before payment issues or prior to receipt of a notification of an administrative inspection if the number of breeding ewes they hold falls below the scheme payment reference number or most recent census figure.
The lower number of eligible breeding ewes will then become the eligible number for payment. Failure to inform the department of the lower number may result in the application of a penalty.
If applicants retain their own ewe lambs, then these will satisfy any shortfall in ewe numbers once they reach 12 months of age.
In all cases, where an applicant is approved into the scheme based on a particular reference number of breeding ewes, this number of ewes must be retained and made available for inspection where required for that scheme year, the DAFM added
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