The National Sheep Association (NSA) welcomed Minister for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Victoria Prentis as guest speaker at the first of its new Breakfast Club webinars on Wednesday.

Joining NSA chief executive Phil Stocker and NSA chairman Bryan Griffiths, Minister Prentis engaged with a large online audience discussing the current challenges faced by the UK sheep sector.

The debate kicked off with an overview of the situation the sector finds itself in today, covering issues over export health certificates, lack of facilities at border control points for live animal movements, contentious challenges with the Northern Ireland Protocol and the overburdening of bureaucracy and paperwork associated with exports since January 1, 2021.

Phil Stocker said: "We were very pleased to be joined by Victoria Prentis for the first of our Breakfast Club webinars and thanks must go to her for giving us her time.

It was comforting to hear the minister was well aware of administrative issues currently faced by those seeking to export sheep products and encouragingly it sounded as though her team at Defra [Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs] is working hard to alleviate some of the problems.

With discussion moving onto the minister’s vision for future farming and payments for public goods, with a focus on the Environmental Land Management Scheme (ELMS), NSA chairman Bryan Griffiths emphasized the vital need for more detail on what schemes sheep farmers will actually be able to access.

'Recognition for early adopters'

Stocker stressed the importance of recognition for early adopters of the new schemes.

He said:

With sheep farming already being intrinsically beneficial for the environment, biodiversity, soil health, carbon storage, many of the proposed schemes seem to benefit more intensive systems who are looking to switch towards being extensive.

"Many of our nation’s sheep farmers are already farming in a manner that meets many of the schemes’ requirements.

"Victoria Prentis did show support in the webinar for the view that sheep farming is already working harmoniously with nature, producing high-value quality product that needs to be rewarded accordingly so we hope this early recognition will be given."

Important discussions during the meeting also included conversation on the Defra consultation on ending live animal exports for slaughter with the minister declaring that despite the consultation being currently open, any actions that will follow it are not yet set in stone.