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The next generation of sheep farmers consider the UK’s farming future during NSA visit to Westminster

14th February 2023

A group of enthusiastic young sheep farmers shared their hopes and concerns for the future of the sector with key delegates last week as they visited London for an insightful visit with the National Sheep Association’s (NSA) Next Generation programme.

Having been selected following an application process that asked each of the young people to express their thoughts on key issues such as trade and other priorities for the UK sheep industry the group was able to meet with several Lords and Defra representatives during a tour and meeting at the Palace of Westminster. This was followed by a visit to leading retailer Marks & Spencer’s London headquarters to discuss its supply chain process and future plans for British lamb.

NSA Chief Executive Phil Stocker accompanied the group and says: “We were pleased to be joined by a brilliant delegation of young farming ambassadors in London last week for an exceptional visit and tour of parliament, following which we met with Defra leads for a lively discussion around new schemes, future trade and vision for the future of agriculture.

“It was a privilege to take part in this visit to Westminster and then M&S, with a very lively and engaged group. I’d particularly like to thank NSA President Lord Inglewood for sponsoring our visit which gave one of the best insights into the background and workings of both the House of Commons and the Lords that I have ever experienced. Also, thanks must go to the senior Defra team who discussed Future Farming Schemes and trade, and of course to M&S who provided a thorough insight into their supply chain and sustainability programme, including an excellent butchery demonstration”.

The visit took place over two days and gave a unique insight into the inner workings of decision making and supply and demand.

Ailish Ross from the Texel Sheep Society joined the group and says: “The whole visit was fantastic. Having the chance to convey our personal views and those of other young people within the industry was great. We all wanted to make sure that our thoughts were heard, on new payment schemes, supporting new entrants and improving the education of the British public on where their food comes from.”

The visit to Marks and Spencer proved a highlight for many of the group. Ailish continues: “Speaking directly to the agriculture team, about their future schemes and having a discussion on the business’s commitment to carbon reduction, was fascinating. Ultimately, hearing directly from a supplier in a positive manner on how they are planning to continue championing British produce and supporting local farmers provided us all with more confidence for the future.”

Jack Walton, a livestock auctioneer from Northumberland adds:It was a great experience to be able to openly speak our opinions and worries about the future of farming and the UK sheep sector. I’d like to thank the NSA for organising this opportunity to speak to Defra and Department of Business and Trade officials as well as with Lord Inglewood. The meeting with Marks and Spencer’s allowed us to gain a deep understanding of the retailer’s business.”

NSA Chair Dan Phipps joined the delegates for a delicious meal of British produce at London’s Farmer’s Club the evening before the visit to Westminster. He comments: “I thoroughly enjoyed my time with the group and had a very robust conversation with them in which they demonstrated their determination to see agriculture and particularly the sheep sector thrive into the future. 

“Having such an engaged youth within the sector is incredibly encouraging to all industry and policy makers, it is vital that talent is continually nurtured and NSA activities continue to provide those opportunities. It was extremely encouraging to see Marks and Spencer put in a huge effort to ensure the delegates were taken through the supply chain process from sourcing to marketing, the commitment from this particular retailer to British lamb and produce was received with enthusiasm and inspiration from our next generation of food producers.”