The Grassland Sheep Scheme is one of the measures funded by unused Single Farm Payment funds. Under the governing EU Regulations, the payment of aid under these measures cannot commence prior to 1 December. I am pleased to announce that payments under the 2012 Grassland Sheep Scheme to sheep farmers will issue in the coming days and that the vast majority of eligible applicants will be paid prior to Christmas. It is not possible to provide the data sought by the Deputy on the outcome of the 2012 Scheme before payments commence. However, I have made arrangements to provide the Deputy with details of payments under the 2011 Grassland Sheep Scheme in the format requested. Gross payments in excess of €17.7 million have issued to date to 17,843 applicants under the 2011 Scheme.
This Scheme, as originally implemented, was to run for three years: 2010, 2011 and 2012, with an annual budget of €18 million. I am, however, pleased to confirm that, notwithstanding continued adverse budgetary conditions, I was in a position to secure funding which allows the Scheme continue for a fourth year, albeit with adjusted funding of €14 million. Direct aid payments are important, but it is time for the sheep sector to adapt and develop their enterprises in line with other sectors. In that regard, I have decided to make funding of €3 million for a new Sheep Technology Adoption Programme, which concept has already proven very successful in both the dairy and beef sectors, with a maximum payment of €1,000 per participant. It is important that sheep farmers take action to increase and maximise their income from their enterprises. This can be achieved by improving breeding, animal health/welfare and grazing regimes. The dairy sector has demonstrated that the discussion group concept is an effective way to achieve such improvements.
Notwithstanding the financial adjustment made to the overall funding to the Grassland Sheep Scheme, hill sheep farmers, who join a Sheep Discussion Group will find that the aid they will receive in 2013 will increase by almost €590.