Sheep farmers warn of ‘huge risk’ to sector
- Credit: Archant
Sheep farmers have warned that the Prime Minister’s announcements on trade pose “a huge risk” to the UK sheep sector.
The National Sheep Association (NSA) criticised the Government’s decision to pursue “hard Brexit”.
NSA chief executive Phil Stocker said: “NSA has consistently been of the view that ongoing tariff-free access to the EU market was essential to avoid disruption and price volatility.
“We made it clear we wanted to remain in the single market, in the knowledge too that our industry relies heavily on migrant labour. Tuesday’s announcement by Prime Minister Theresa May presents a huge risk to the UK sheep industry when she talks of the ‘freest possible trade’ but very clearly outside of the single market.
“This suggests the acceptance of a level of tariffs, the result of which will be industry paying for any market access it can get to work economically.”
Up to 40% of UK lamb production is exported each year, with 96% of that going into the EU single market. “Sheep farming is an essential primary industry that contributes positively to food production, environmental and landscape management, provides the foundation for much of our farmland ecology, and supports many rural communities and economies,” said Mr Stocker.
“Despite calls that we want Britain to be a major global player, our sheep industry may need to consider turning away from such big aspirations and focus far more on growing and protecting our domestic UK market. That’s not the current model and would require substantial restructuring.”
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Sheep farmer Lady Caroline Cranbrook, who farms near Saxmundham, said she strongly supported the NSA’s concerns.
“Access to the tariff-free European single market is vital for our sheep industry, and indeed for the whole of our agriculture,” she said. “Not only would our livestock industry be crippled by the loss of this critically important tariff -free European market but it would also have to compete with imports which would generally not have been produced to our high welfare standards. The impact would be disastrous.”
If land were no longer grazed, it would have a “devastating” effect on the landscape, she predicted.
Andrew Foulds, who keeps sheep in north Suffolk, said the sector had “so many worries”.
“We just have to sit back and see what’s negotiated,” he said. “Everybody has always done their best to export throughtout the world but Europe has been our major customer, particularly the French and Germans.”
Dan Phipps, area NSA chair, keeps 2,000 ewes at Newmarket for the Godolphin stud. He said sheep farmers were well aware they were a tiny industry, but the sector was lobbying hard to be heard.
“I’m trying to remain buoyant about it and see what comes of it. but we are worried,” he admitted.