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New NSA chair predicts good outlook

Hailing from Co Antrim, Samuel Wharry is a grass-roots, progressive sheep farmer. 

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This month he starts his new three-year role as NSA’s national chairman, hoping to make the organisation useful and relevant to its members.


Are farmers being given enough guidance on the new EID regulations which were enforced last month?


A”We have been keeping NSA members informed about the end of derogation for the historic flock on January 1, and tagging changes for lambs in England.


“I have watched with interest what has happened on the mainland as, in Northern Ireland we fully implemented EID in 2010 to help protect our live export trade to Southern Ireland.


“Part of the agreement at the time was livestock marts and meat plants would install electronic readers and act as central recording points and the system has, by and large, worked well.


“However, we need to understand the technology is not flawless and some tags simply do not read.


“Everyone from the EU down to cross compliance inspectors must take this on board, as farmers cannot be expected to be 100 per cent perfect when faced with imperfect technology.


“Speaking to my fellow NSA board members I am well aware of the frustrations in England and Wales about implementing electronic databases and it is important these are ironed out as soon as possible.


“Robust databases can instill confidence and allow positive changes to be made, as seen when the standstill rules were removed in Northern Ireland.”


In your opinion, what will be the main challenges and opportunities for UK sheep farmers this year?


“Predicting the future for sheep farmers is a risky procedure. There are so many variables - such as exchange rates, weather conditions at lambing, lamb numbers and growing conditions through the summer - which can all affect lamb thrive.


“I suppose this variation and uncertainty adds variety to life as a sheep farmer.


“To put my head on the block, I think the outlook for sheep farmers is positive this year. Ewe numbers are continuing to drop on the continent - where our main export markets are based - and the New Zealand flock is increasingly concentrating on the Chinese market, rather than Europe, while also being continually pushed further up the hills by the country’s dairy expansion.


“Of course, we cannot allow ourselves to become complacent over costs and efficiency.


“Our major advantage in these islands is our ability to grow grass and we should all be doing our utmost to use the grass to produce high quality meat for our customers.


“Whether it is hill lamb from heather moorland, early season lamb from fertile lowland, or later season lamb being produced from arable break crops, we must concentrate on using the best genetics available in both livestock and forage, to keep production costs under control.


“This is our main challenge - not just for this year, but for the future. If we get it right, it could be our greatest opportunity.”


Do you think more farmers should consider share farming arrangements and is there enough support for farmers and young people who are interested in them?


“It is vital we encourage new blood into our industry to bring down the average age of sheep farmers.


“To maintain a vibrant and forward-looking industry we need young people who are prepared to use new technology and work with modern research findings while still maintaining the best of our traditional shepherding skills.


“The share farming partnership I have with James Davison gives us both, and the business, an opportunity to benefit. His enthusiasm and questioning nature is refreshing and he benefits from my experience.


“Our partnership works for us, but I do not think there is necessarily a right and wrong way to set up a share farming arrangement. An element of flexibility is needed as each one will involve different aspirations and practical circumstances.”

Sheep and share farming

  • Mr Wharry keeps a pure-bred Scottish Blackface flock on his hill farm in Carnlough, taking part in a number of initiatives using other breeds, including Swaledales and Lleyns, to gather practical data on maternal lines
  • He recently entered into a share farming agreement with James Davison, a young farmer from Ballymena who wants to forge a career in the sheep sector but has little land of his own
  • Mr Davidson will earn an increasing stake in the flock over the coming years
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