NSA Cymru/Wales Region ARMM
Date: 22nd February 2022
Location: Online or at International Pavilion, Royal Welsh Showground, Builth Wells, LD2 3WY
Change can bring opportunity as well as challenge was the message at the National Sheep Association Wales/Cymru ARRM, held at the Royal Welsh Showground.
Members were told that the future is bright for those willing to adapt. And the NSA’s mission is to support sheep farmers through rapidly changing times, including climate change and trade deals with Australia and New Zealand.
NSA Wales/Cymru Chair Kate Hovers said the NSA’s priority was to stress the sector’s importance. Sheep farming can be positioned as one of the solutions, particularly in terms of sustainability and carbon sequestration. And with the world population increasing phenomenally, it was clear that people had to be fed.
She added: “The NSA wants to defend sheep farming. We have to look at climate change.
“We’re trying to get the messages over to people who don’t understand the importance and role of sheep farming, not just in our uplands but in the whole of the UK. We all know that farming and land management is really affected by political change, climate change and economic change.
“And although sheep have had a good year’s trading, it doesn’t actually mean profits will change because inputs have changed. But I don’t want to be negative.
“I am enthusiastic about the future of the sheep industry, but we do know we’ve got trade deals with countries that may have different standards from those we have to adhere to and may even be allowed to use different medicines from the ones we’re allowed to and can market their products in our country with no mention of that.”
John Richards, Hybu Cig Cymru (Meat Promotion Wales) Industry Development and Relations manager, urged the industry to focus more on individual farming systems. The primary producer actually had very little control of pricing, but spent a lot of time talking about it.
He felt there was more change coming than in the previous ten to fifteen years, but it could bring opportunities. It was important to be able and agile enough to take up opportunity. The sector needed to identify areas of improvement, but also to measure and show the improvements made in advance of Government targets.
HCC initiatives were based on intensive research and a series of documents had been produced to explain that sustainability is about more than greenhouse gas emissions and also to show how improvements could be made. The impact of greenhouse gasses on the environment was obviously important, but sustainability was also about the rural economy, sustaining its future and ensuring a constant food source. It was about land management, biodiversity and about the Welsh culture.
John Richards explained it needed to be highlighted that lowering greenhouse gas emissions by cattle and sheep production wasn’t necessarily about lowering livestock numbers. It could actually be counter beneficial.
He said: “What we need to be doing is to make improvements to the system we’ve got and trying to make our sheep work as hard as they can for us and in the most efficient way we can.
“Increased productivity doesn’t mean increased production, we mean maintaining production but using less resources or using the same amount of resources but producing more. Or, if we can, producing more from less, so less inputs but producing more.
“That is the ideal because ultimately it will make us more competitive and also increase our profitability. It’s not just about producing more.”
He added that it was also important to talk about the positive influences. Carbon sequestration was about far more than soil and trees. It was about hedges, shelter belts and areas of peatlands and they should all be included in the conversation. Lambs that came from a hill system actually had a lower carbon footprint than those from the upland and lowland system, so that with 50% of Wales classified as hill, it’s a very positive message
The meeting was especially impressed with the presentation by Carys Jones, who farms 350 acres near Llandeilo with her parents and grandparents. Delegates were inspired by her enthusiasm and the changes she has initiated to ensure a successful future for the family sheep and beef farm in the Welsh hills.
Carys told the meeting she had introduced new breeds to try and build a sustainable future. She is part of HCC’s Hill Ram Scheme and was a winner of one of the Romney rams offered through NSA last year.
The family is trying to increase output and decrease inputs to build a sustainable future. They are concentrating on four areas: genetics, health, pasture management and carbon auditing.
The NSA’s Policy and Technical officer, Sean Riches, said that, going forward, promotion of the industry would focus more on people. It would highlight the role of the farmer and the shepherd, as well as the economic benefits the industry delivered.
He highlighted the wide range of initiatives the NSA was undertaking and involved in to protect the sheep industry. They included working with other stakeholders, building strong relationships across the industry, producing webinars and supporting farmer in the face of immense change.
Chair Kate Hovers and the top team were re-elected for a further two year term, to take account of Covid disruption and the postponed NSA Welsh Sheep 2021. Kate Hovers also thanked Development Officer Helen Roberts for ‘the tremendous amount of work’ she puts into running NSA Wales/Cymru and congratulated her on her recent George Hedley Memorial Award.