Defra secretary George Eustice is under fire after suggesting that mixed farms could produce less lamb and more beef in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
The National Sheep Association said Mr Eustice should have better knowledge of the UK’s sheep farming enterprises after he made the suggestion during an interview on the BBC’s Andrew Marr show on Sunday, 15 November.
During the interview, Mr Eustice said: “If we are not importing as much beef from Ireland, then those mixed beef and sheep enterprises would be able to diversify into beef.”
National Sheep Association chief executive Phil Stocker said: “Mr Eustice’s comments will have angered many of our nation’s sheep farmers, failing to identify the unique and varied nature of sheep enterprises across the country.
“To begin with, to suggest that many of our sheep farmers are mixed farmers is wrong,” he added. “This assumption will enrage sheep farmers across the UK who have structured their farms to focus on sheep.
“The fact we have many sheep farmers, especially younger farmers and new entrants to the sector who run their sheep on arable farms and on short term grass lets was completely ignored – simply switching to cattle would be impossible for them.”
‘Act of negligence’
It was hard to think Mr Eustice really believed what he said, added Mr Stocker. The interview had left people it was part of a “we don’t care” attitude or a willingness to see reduce the size, scale and diversity of the sheep sector.
Mr Stocker said: “The country’s sheep farmers work hard to supply a product that is predominantly ecological agriculture in nature, fed on grass and part of the creation of our iconic countryside.
“To allow British sheep farming to potentially be permanently damaged because the transition agreements to enable us to change to a different global supply chain aren’t put in place would be an act of negligence on behalf of our government.”
Tenant Farmers Association chairman Mark Coulman said the suggestion that sheep farmers should consider diversifying into beef production, if the market was closed for exports of high quality lamb, were “not helpful to say the least”.
Mr Coulman said: “The farming community was hoping for much better than this. Somehow, we need to use the short time available to garner the strength to pull victory from the jaws of defeat, but this will require a concerted effort.”