The future of the sheep industry in Northern Ireland was up for discussion at the recent National Sheep Association (NSA) Sheep Event – with Brexit the dominating theme.
The Ulster Farmers’ Union used the event in England as an opportunity to explore with industry experts all possible options for the sheep sector as Brexit discussions continue.
Uncertainty for the future is the overarching concern for the sector.
UFU beef and lamb chairman, Sam Chesney said: “With less than a year to go until Brexit, sheep producers need to know where they stand, what opportunities exist and how the industry will be supported.
“Beef and sheep producers have come a long way in the last few years. They want to be able to plan, but in the face of uncertainty the focus has to be on all options to improve farm efficiency. Our aim is to maximise output while delivering the environmental benefits that come from our approach to sheep farming,” he said.
Another issue discussed was the dry weather.
“Many farmers across the UK and Ireland are facing a similar situation with grass availability almost gone,” explained Mr Chesney.
“A big fear is that if these unpredictable weather patterns continue they will have a huge economic impact on farm businesses. Farmers will ensure high welfare standards are maintained, but this is a big challenge with grass growth so poor. Securing additional fodder for the winter from scarce supplies will also be difficult,” he warned.
Meanwhile, former MP for South Down, Margaret Ritchie, has urged the British Government and DAERA to protect the local agri food industry in Brexit negotiations
Ms Ritchie said: “One of the most important industries in our local economy is the agri food industry. As chaotic Brexit negotiations continue there is a need for farming and the agri food industry to be protected. To safeguard our local industry, whether beef, dairy, grain, arable and mixed farming, it is quite clear we need to stay in the Customs Union and Single Market.
“There is now a clear need and urgency for devolved institutions to be restored and for a minister to be appointed to act on those issues. Failure to do so would be acting against the interests of our farmers and agri food industry. Failure to address the needs of our agricultural industry in Brexit negotiations by the British Government would be a severe dereliction of duty on their part – an industry that is valued by local consumers and the community.”