‘Eustice’s comments will have angered many of our nation’s sheep farmers’ – NSA

Comments made by the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, George Eustice, on BBC One’s Andrew Marr show this weekend have been met with both shock and anger by the National Sheep Association (NSA).

Eustice was questioned on the subject of EU negotiations, Brexit trade deals and likely tariffs on Sunday morning’s show.

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The NSA said that a time when key decisions are being made on the future of British agriculture, it is extremely concerning to hear the lack of understanding shown by Eustice who, the NSA believes, having spent five years as Farming Minister, should have better knowledge of the UK’s sheep farming enterprises.

‘Eustice’s comments will have angered many’

NSA Chief Executive Phil Stocker commented:

“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.

This assumption will enrage sheep farmers across the UK who have structured their farms to focus on sheep, and it will particularly antagonise our devolved nations where the landscape includes more remote areas of countryside, especially suited to sheep, and where buildings, machinery and farm infrastructure simply would not suit a sudden switch to cattle farming.

“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.

I find it hard to think that George Eustice really believes what he said, and this interview leaves us thinking his comments could either be part of creating a ‘we don’t care’ attitude to bolster trade negotiations, or, and this would be highly concerning, that it exposes an underlying willingness to see our sheep industry go through a restructure to reduce its size, scale and diversity.

In the interview which aired on Sunday morning, the Secretary of State accepted that the sheep sector would be one of the hardest hit if a deal cannot be secured in the next few weeks.

The NSA, therefore, is increasingly concerned that of all negotiations on non-EU trade deals, those progressing at fastest pace are with New Zealand and Australia, deals offering no market opportunity for the sheep sector and deals that in fact pose the greatest risk to the UK’s sheep farmers.