Icelandic Sheep and Cattle Farmers Receive ISK 970 Million in Pandemic Support

sheep farm Sauðfjárbúið að Hesti í Borgarfirði Hestur Kindur Kind Sauðfé Sauðfjárbúið að Hesti í Borgarfirði Hestur Kindur Kind Sauðfé

Kristján Þór Júlíusson, Minister of Fisheries and Agriculture, has completed the allocation of ISK 970 million ($7.5 million/€6.3 million) in funding to sheep and cattle farmers to meet the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. The measure is part of a 12-point action plan in response to the effect of the pandemic on Icelandic agriculture. Social and travel restrictions have hit Iceland’s sheep and cattle farmers hard, leading to drops in both demand and prices for their products.

Tourism Halt Led to Drop in Demand

“It is undisputed that Icelandic farmers have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic in various ways, including in light of the fact that two million tourists didn’t come to Iceland this year. Thus the demand for food products has decreased while at the same time imports have increased according to tariff quotas. It’s domestic food production that takes that hit,” Kristján Þór wrote last December shortly after he proposed the initiative. He pointed out that prices for meat and wool had fallen and waitlists at slaughterhouses had gotten longer. Meat production is particularly vulnerable to rapid market changes as it can take a year to ramp down production. Thus, lamb and beef reserves in Iceland have grown considerably as demand has fallen locally and internationally.

Most Funding to Sheep Farmers

The funds have now been approved and allocated: 75% will go to sheep farmers while the remaining 25% will go to cattle farmers. The funding to sheep farmers will be allocated via an additional mutton quality control surcharge as well as for wool production and through a special action plan on sheep breeding. Cattle farmers will be given an additional payment for each calf that was slaughtered in 2020, some 11,000 animals.

The funding is part of a broader action plan to support the local agricultural industry in responding to the challenges of the pandemic. Other measures include freezing tariff hikes, changes to tariff quotas, efforts to increase farmers’ opportunities for home production on the farm, and the creation of a new agricultural policy for Iceland.

Number of Sheep in Iceland Hits 40-Year Low

Icelandic sheep

There are fewer sheep in Iceland now than there have been for 40 years, Bændablaðið reports.

At the end of 2019, there were a total of 415,949 sheep in the country and 1,471 goats. By contrast, at the end of 1980, there were 50.3% more sheep in Iceland, or 827,927. At the end of 1985, there were 709,257. By 2000, that number had dropped to 465,777 but there was a small increase by 2010 when there were 479,841 sheep and then another small jump in 2014 when there were 486,598. After that, the total stock continued to steadily drop until this year’s 40-year low.

Stocks have decreased all over Iceland and there are some regions where sheep farming has disappeared entirely. Northwest Iceland, including the West Fjords, currently maintains the most robust sheep numbers and farming in the country, with 102,175 sheep. Three regions are relatively even for the next highest number of sheep: Northeast Iceland (68,789), East Iceland (65,753), and South Iceland (64,931). The Southwest of Iceland has considerably fewer sheep: 2,216.

Meanwhile, South Iceland has the highest prevalence of cattle farmers and cattle with 31,712 animals as of 2019. The next highest number of cattle are found in Northeast Iceland (18,025), followed by Northwest Iceland (14,138), and West Iceland (12,042). East Iceland and Southwest Iceland have the lowest number of cattle: 4,653 and 1,302 respectively.

The data was taken from fall agricultural statistics; no explanation was provided for why the number of sheep in Iceland has dropped so precipitously.