The National Sheep Association (NSA) attended two highly significant meetings with Defra yesterday (14th February), which gave NSA confidence the Government has listened to and agreed with the case that has been made for the importance and value of British sheep farming. Defra has offered assurances it is prepared, in the case of a no deal or hard Brexit, to step in to protect our industry in the event of market difficulties.

Following contingency planning meetings in Scotland and Wales in recent weeks, a UK level contingency planning meeting was held in London on Thursday with the aim of agreeing what might be needed if, after the 29th March, we end up with a relationship with the EU that disrupts our sheepmeat markets and where prices fall significantly. NSA Chief Executive Phil Stocker comments: “These meetings have all contributed to the discussion about the options for Government support to help our industry in a time of crisis. It was agreed that we have short term and longer-term challenges to deal with and both will need different, but complimentary approaches. 

“In the long term our markets and our farm support structure will change. The industry will need to be innovative and adaptable and respond to these changes, but if we do leave the EU in a way that suddenly negatively affects our industry then there are few options other than Government support to carry it through. There is absolutely not enough fat on our industry to expect it to do that alone.”

Following the contingency meeting the UK Livestock Brexit Group met and welcomed Farming Minister George Eustice to speak and answer some key questions. Both Defra and the Minister stated their support and appreciation for this group, that consists of nearly 30 UK wide livestock related associations and bodies.

Mr Stocker adds: “In early October the NSA issued a statement with the intention of starting a conversation over the steps that would be needed if Brexit resulted in a collapse of our sheep markets. The threat is still that we temporarily lose our entire access to the EU market. We would regain that access, but with tariffs that would make trade unviable. This could then result in a flood of lamb onto our domestic market that would result in price crashes. The effect of this on farm livelihoods, mental health, and animal welfare could be catastrophic. 

“Following a couple of months of debate, we have now arrived at a place where Ministers are stating their support for the British sheep industry, recognition of its economic, environmental and social benefits, and an intent to provide financial support in the case of market difficulties. This support will maintain the sectors capacity and ensure it can regain and build on existing markets. That is a huge breakthrough and one that gives us confidence that we can enter this lambing period with a greater level of assurance than was previously the case. Farming Minister George Eustice stated clearly that there is no desire or intent to dissemble or restructure our industry.”

NSA is continuing to work with Defra to help shape what such support will look like, and to direct it to ensure those most in need are supported throughout this unstable period. NSA is also continuing to emphasise its preference for a deal and is meeting with Defra representatives regularly to stress the importance of maintaining security for our food and farming sectors.