FARMER FOCUS: Embrace change or get left behind

Recently during a talk I gave to a local discussion group, it was said there was nothing forward-thinking, modern or groundbreaking about the UK sheep industry.

And looking back over my previous articles, I thought it might be time to start focusing on the positives of our industry. I do partially agree with the above comments and think our sheep sector, as a whole, is falling behind other sectors in its professionalism and uptake of technological advances. But with the next generation of shepherds coming through, our traditional industry is being dragged into the 21st century. More importantly, this is happening without losing one of our most important selling points that other sectors are finding it hard to uphold during modernisation: public image. And hopefully we will never succumb to intensifying our systems to the point of being branded “factory farming”.

It has been pleasing to read some of the responses to my comments on breeding policy and how more of a commercial attitude is needed from our ram breeders. While not everyone agreed with my comments, I was happy to hear from breeders looking to work more closely with commercial producers to help meet their demands. It was also good to hear from other producers that share my thoughts on how we can improve efficiency. And while we are possibly still in the minority, things are changing. Greater numbers of sheep farmers are realising how improvements can be made by thinking outside the box a little.

Exciting times lie ahead for sheep producers bold enough to explore new systems. We could be the generation that makes the biggest impact on sheep production and profitability. But it will come from working together to produce a quality product, embracing new ideas and the science behind them, and continually challenging ourselves to do better. We need to make our industry an attractive proposition for new entrants to come in and keep sheep farming moving forward. Or we could just bury our heads in the sand thinking we’re doing OK and let the opportunities pass us by until we have no opportunities. I know which I’d rather do.

Tom Jones lives on a 200ha upland beef and sheep farm near Lake Vyrnwy, Montgomeryshire. He also has a contract shepherding business looking after ewes locally.

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