POST-Brexit survival was on the minds of many farmers at Northern Ireland’s National Sheep Association (NSA) event held at Ballymena Market. Alex Robinson reports.
AN ongoing theme of uncertainty sifted through the mart as Northern Irish sheep experts attempted to say positive, despite admitting they were worried about the future of lamb trade and European market access post Brexit.
NSA Northern Ireland regional development officer Edward Adamson summarised the tone of the event by saying how even a year after the vote was cast, the UK Government was no nearer to cementing any plans with regards to the future of an independent Britain.
A hard Brexit could mean lamb export trade between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland are disrupted, a big concern at present as more than 400,000 lambs cross the border annually.
Mr Adamson said: “Northern Irish agriculture has a big investment in Southern Ireland. There is a lot of talk regarding the settlement arrangements between the North and the Republic, but no plans have been implemented as of yet so it is a waiting game.”
The only thing Mr Adamson assured farmers of was the power of their own influence back home on-farm. He advised producers to concentrate on soil and grass management and good animal health to make the best of their assets and make a difference to their own viability.
Industry expert Justin McCarthy mirrored this point, suggesting farmers needed to improve efficiencies on-farm by knowing the strengths and weaknesses of their individual systems.
Mr McCarthy urged the audience to understand the market they were working in, and said: “Too often farmers measure individual sheep prices but it is the flock average which really dictates how well a producer is performing. I advise farmers to actively implement plans to improve their farm, regarding areas such as breeding and grazing infrastructure, and profits will follow.”
New Zealand farmer and international sheep consultant Murray Rohloff told the audience change was in the air, but also said the British Government was not inspiring industry confidence. While he suggested the UK farm system was very different to New Zealand’s, he said farmers could take survival principles from the country, which previously suffered economic upheaval.
Mr Rohloff said: “In 1984 the New Zealand sheep sector suffered some major blows. Subsidies were reduced, land and market prices dropped, and interest rates went through the roof. The whole industry had to come together and farmers had to change their mindset.
“Brexit could have similar effects, so producers must ensure everything on-farm is done efficiently as this is the only thing they can have sovereign control over.”
Mr Rohloff’s main advice to farmers was to understand the value of a pasture as the essential element to a successful business was ensuring ruminants turn grass into profit.
“Farmers must understand the sources of profit. Focusing on the principle of pasture management is what the highest achieving farmers are doing. The amount of dry matter a sheep consumes is the most direct influence of profit at slaughter. It is also important to match lambing percentage and functionality to the environment so you do not have a large surplus of grass, and money can be saved on health and intervention costs. In sum, sheep farmers can halve costs by valuing pasture as the diesel of the business.”
Alongside effective livestock management, Mr Rohloff advised farmers to take care of their own welfare.
He said: “Financial hardships often lead to mental health problems so I advise farmers to also look after themselves during times of turbulence, ensuring they communicate with their families.”
THE award for the best breed society stand was given to the Lleyn society, with the runner up spot going to the Texel stand.
Best of the indoor displays was Ceva Animal Health, and second was Animax. Heading outside, and the David Ritchie stand was crowned the winner, ahead of George Hamilton Machinery.
1, Russell Smyth; 2, Iain Wilson (best under 21); 3, Mark Hamilton.
Over 25; 1, Mark Scott; 2, Timothy Rea; Crosby Cleland.
Under 25; 1, Joe Milligan; 2, Ashleigh Cupples; 3, David Thompson.
Coloured wool; 1, Freda Magill.
Lustre wool; 1, Freda Magill.
Short wool; 1, Robbie Morrow