The event’s headline debate, UK Genetics are Fit for Purpose, resulted in delegates voting against the motion, with many suggesting UK genetics were a good base to work from, but imported genetics, even from foreign strains of UK breeds, may be needed as UK genetics couldn’t be adapted fast enough to suit the rapidly changing industry.
Speaking against the motion, Suffolk breeder Robyn Hulme told delegates he’d sourced genetics from New Zealand for that very reason. “Most UK sheep farms, on the evidence of levy board costings aren’t currently profitable. The only way to make a profit is to cut out unnecessary costs such as labour and feed. This is what New Zealand producers did more than 20 years ago, and importing means we can short cut to the end result.”
But standing up for UK genetics, Lleyn breeder Neil McGowan said if breeders focused on the economically important traits they could adapt UK sheep to suit the modern industry. “The right sheep are here we just have to find them. UK sheep are already adapted to our environment and have the carcass traits our market demands, we just need to adapt them slightly to maximise the profit opportunities they offer.”
Meanwhile, Dewi Jones, chief executive of breeding company Innovis, said unless commercial farmers got a grip of their costs of production it wouldn’t matter what genetics they were given. “Farmers need to start managing their farms not their sheep. Get the grassland management right and then put stock on it, rather than adapting farm management to suit the sheep.”