Meet the 2015 NSA Next Generation Ambassadors
The second ever NSA Next Generation Ambassador Group is made up of 11 young people from around the UK. You can read about them here and also discover their blogs in our Profiles area.
The Ambassadors enjoyed five delivery sessions through the year, which were generously supported by the following companies and individuals. NSA is indebted to them all. NSA Regions & Ram Sales for funding the wider NSA Next Generation programme, and AHDB Beef & Lamb and British Wool Marketing Board for financially supporting the Ambassadors in 2015. Also for delivery session partners AHDB Beef & Lamb, Barenbrug, British Wool Marketing Board, Central Association of Agricultural Valuers, Farmers Guardian, Kingsway Vets, Skipton, Monmouthshire Livestock Centre, Newton Rigg College, Old Mill Accounancy Group, Roaming Roosters, SCOPS and Two Sisters. Farm walks were provided by Will Halford (Worcestershire), John Henderson and David Coates (North Yorkshire), Richard Sparey (Herefordshire) and Andy Wear and Jen Hunter (Bristol). And Lyndon Edwards (NFU Cymru), John Geldard (NSA), Samuel Wharry (NSA), Tim White (Wiltshire) and Mick Wright (Powys) were excellent after dinner speakers.
You can see where each of the 2015 Ambassadors is based in the UK by finding their number on the map.
1. Lynn Allison (22) Newton Stewart, Wigtownshire: Having graduated from the Scottish Agricultural College (SRUC) in July, Lynn is now helping on the family farm, establishing her own flock and working in the local market at Newton Stewart.
She currently has 30 Scottish Blackface ewes, but says she is reliant on the goodwill of her mother letting her have land at home and will need to rent grazing locally to increase numbers further. She spent some time in New Zealand this summer and is also keen to head back there to better understand farming without subsidies.
Lynn believes there are lessons to be learnt from New Zealand, but at the same time understands the importance of a payment system for farmers at home. She is concerned that higher payments for better land in Scotland and a focus on forestry on poorer land will reduce areas of sheep grazing and make it even harder for people like herself getting started. She therefore wants to keep all her options open.
She says: “I hope to gain further knowledge and skills as an Ambassador, to increase my chances of acquiring extra land to increase my flock. But being an Ambassador also improves my employability if I were unable to do this.” Read Lynn's blog here.
Top fact: Lynn did her university honours project on the effect of genotype on lambing ease and lamb survival. She collected data on Lleyns and Blackies.
2. Thomas Carrick (32) Alston, Cumbria: Sheep farming is about balancing tradition and innovation, says Thomas, who is a partner in the family business breeding Swaledales and North of England Mules from a 1,800-ewe upland flock.
He believes in the diversity of UK breeds and the traditional stratified system but wants to continue making improvements within it by keeping a keen eye on commercial attributes. Thomas embraces all available tools and new technology to improve health and performance and, having completed a degree in human genetics, believes there is huge potential for the science to be used more by the livestock industry.
“By keeping up to date, and even pushing to the forefront of technology-based breeding, rearing and finishing, the UK will always be in a position to produce sheep meat in an efficient and competitive way,” he says.
Situated high in the uplands means Thomas is familiar with the range of environmental problems that sheep are blamed for. “It is important that we restore public faith and demonstrate the vitally important role that sheep play in the upland ecosystem,” he says, adding that this can be achieved at the same time as driving for efficiency and productivity in the sheep sector. Read Thomas' blog here.
Top fact: Thomas was sponsored by NSA Northern Region to attend the Northern Farming Conference last year and has since joined the regional committee and is involved in NSA North Sheep on Wednesday 3rd June 2015. See www.northsheep.org.uk.
3. Ewan Cumming (21) Denton, Norfolk: His job on a pig farm and numerous grazing agreements for this sheep scattered over the local area means Ewan spends a lot of time moving himself, sheep and feed around the place. But he has forged this into a successful business, constantly fuelled by his passion for sheep farming.
Ewan is keen to transfer lessons about efficiency from the pig sector to his sheep flock and, having tried lambing his 60 Poll Dorset ewes three times in two years, is improving genetics and health in order to try again in the future. He is savvy enough to know the risks of such a high cost system, but believes he can manage these and simultaneously increase output.
Increasing the quantity and quality of his flock will be challenging given the often poor quality grazing Ewan has access too, so he is looking for local arable farmers interesting in introducing grazing into their rotations.
“The rising price of fertilisers, increased issues with blackgrass resistance to sprays, a reduction in soil quality from repeated growing of annual crops and a lack of organic matter to breakdown into the soil means there is opportunity to work closely with arable farmers to make use of grass as an alternative break-crop,” Ewan says. Read Ewan's blog here.
Top Fact: Ewan boosted ewe numbers in 2011 when he was the recipient of the Chris Lewis Award, a grant awarded bienniually to young farmers in memory of an inspirational Norfolk stockman.
4. Jonny Farmer (33) Ballymena, County Antrim: Splitting his time between farming, contract shearing and landscape gardening means Jonny is never short of work, but his passion is for sheep and he is constantly on the look-out for land and opportunities to made a living solely from his flock.
He rents sufficient land for 130-head currently and also has a contract with a local farmer to rear 100 Lleyn ewe lambs. This contract allows Jonny to tup the females and keep the resulting lambs, as long as he returns the Lleyns to the farmer in good enough condition to go to the tup again. Through this and other expansion plans, Jonny hopes to get to 700+ ewes in the future. This will involve a keen focus on breeding, management and good grassland, he says.
“My business operates on a standalone basis and must generate a true profit to be sustainable,” he says. “This drives me to generate as much income as I can and gives me the catalyst to devise the best management strategies at the lowest cost.”
Jonny is also dedicated to educating the public. He uses social media to spread the word and also plans a ‘learning to lamb’ sheep experience for sheep enthusiasts in the future. Read Jonny's blog here.
Top fact: Jonny helps co-ordinate Mid-Ulster Lamb, a local producer group founded by his father in the early 1990s. The groups markets 15,000 lambs a year from local farmers to Linden Food Group.
5. Harry Frederick (27) Tonbridge, Kent: Despite the family farm always having a focus on beef and arable, Harry introduced a sheep flock to the business in 2010, quickly building up to 240 ewes.
He rents land from his father as part of his wages and has additional grazing agreements with neighbours, allowing him to rear and finish lambs for local butchers and farmers’ markets. There is scope to increase numbers to 400, so Harry is closely monitoring performance to aid breeding and buying decisions for this expansion.
Regular engagement with the public is something Harry values, for his direct-sales business and for the wider sheep sector, so he also hosts open days and charity events on the farm.
Harry believes dialogue between farmers, on issues such as new technology, health status and biosecurity, is equally important. “It’s not only communication to the public, but importantly communication between ourselves as farmers,” he says. “The public views the industry as a whole, so we should want everyone to succeed and produce fit, healthy lambs. The possibilities are there to improve our industry, and if we want the public to trust our product then we need to start trusting each other first.” Read Harry's blog here.
Top fact: Harry’s has a degree in architecture. He says his time at university made him realise how much he wanted to farm for a living, and in the future his hand-built sheep barns may be the envy of farmers for miles around!
6. George Gough (22) Knighton, Powys: The sheep farming year for George kicks off with lambing from January through to the end of May, taking him from Devon to the Scottish Highlands. This is followed by several months of shearing and general shepherding work, as well as running 80 ewe lambs of his own and 200 for an employer to prepare and sell in the autumn months. He is also a sheepdog enthusiast and trains collies as a lucrative hobby.
George’s ambitions are not small, with sheep scanning and jetting two options being considered for his contract shepherding business, and a dream of one day renting a farm and/or land. He is also looking to buy faecal egg counting equipment, to benefit his own flock and provide on-farm services, as he believes anthelmintic resistance needs more attention.
“I feel on-farm testing involving the farmer would build confidence in the task, as he can see the process from start to finish, not just receive the results on paper. I would also work with the farmer to draw up a drenching /grazing plan. I feel more preventative action should take place now before the problem consumes the industry,” he says. Read George's blog here.
Top fact: George has just invested in some Bleu du Maine females to start breeding Millennium Bleus ‘to have some fun and success on the show circuit with’. This is part of his interest in new commercial breeds.
7. George Hartley-Webb (23) Bury St Edmunds , Suffolk: As a self-employed shepherd with regular work for one of the biggest store finishers in the country, George gets to handle more sheep than a lot of people.
He sorts up to 3,000 store lambs a week at busy times of the year, choosing up to 1,000 a time to go to slaughter. He also looks after 1,600 January and February-lambing Suffolk Mules from turn-out to weaning, while simultaneously running his own flock of 100 North Country Mules on various grazing agreements.
George says he is keen to build up his business skills, flock health, marketing and management knowledge, and with plans to purchase an EID reader and new software before his ewes start lambing in March, is also looking for ways to better understand and utilise performance data.
“After being in full-time work within the sheep sector since I was 17, I now really want to expand my knowledge of sheep and the industry,” he says. “In return I believe I will be a very enthusiastic member of the sheep farming community who is prepared to promote the industry and embrace new technology.” Read George's blog here.
Top fact: George sits on the NSA Eastern Region Committee and is involved in organising the region’s NSA Youthful Shepherd Event on Saturday 6th June in Suffolk. More at www.nationalsheep.org.uk/events.
8. Clarke Hibberd (24) Inverurie, Aberdeenshire: Building up a run of 4,000 ewes in his first year as a shearer shows the type of resolve Clarke has to carve a niche for himself in the sheep sector.
He started as a shepherd for a 600-ewe flock, but went self employed this year, retaining management of the original flock and adding additional contract shepherding and shearing work.
Clarke aims to have a farm tenancy or a share-farming agreement in the future, while also keeping his contracting work. He plans to build up commercial and pedigree flocks and considers EBVs to be vital in selecting stock to do this.
“For sheep to be pleasing to the eye, with a combination of looks and figures, will only improve the quality of sheep we breed. I plan to introduce recording of EBVs in my own flock, and the flocks I work with, and continuously promote the advantages of this system to others. Being from a non-farming family, I understand that this industry is not easy to get into. Anything I learn I pass on, teaching and encouraging individuals in a similar position.” Read Clarke's blog here.
Top fact: The shearing trailer Clarke bought last year has three stands, so he plans to keep building his round into a business capable of supporting two other shearers in addition to him.
9. Oliver Newman (21) Cirencester, Gloucestershire: Working alongside your father is not unusual for people born onto sheep farms – but Oliver applied for the job!
He is the employed shepherd for a flock of 600 outdoor-lambing Lleyns, on a mixed organic unit where his father is farm manager. Oliver says he gets no special treatment by ‘knowing the ‘boss’, having to pitch ideas and changes to his dad like any other employee.
He took the job in June 2014 and has sole responsibility for the flock, which he is keen to increase to 850+ ewes and begin recording ‘much more precise data’ to back up management decisions. Oliver’s aim is to increase ewe quality so they are all good enough to breed replacements from, with fewer and fewer being put to a terminal sire instead.
The farm is open to the public and has a popular farm shop and cafe. Oliver says: “I feel I am in a privileged position to be able to share new knowledge with people who are interested in advancements and improvements to the sheep industry, but also to educate and show those who come with no background but with just an interest or a question.” Read Oli's blog here.
Top fact: The farm café serves vegetarian meals six days a week, but an excellent roast on Sundays. All of the lambs not selected for breeding in Oliver’s flock are finished on the farm, some for the shop and café.
10. Georgie Radmore (23) Yelverton, Devon: In her final few months of an Agriculture and Animal Science degree at Harper Adams, Georgie is looking ahead to a career supporting the livestock sector, running her own sheep alongside it and continuing to spend time on the family farm.
She already has plenty of practical experience, working for six months in Australian shearing sheds, spending her university holidays with a large flock in Wales, and splitting her placement year between an animal health company (where she qualified to be an SQP) and the lamb procurement team of a premium supermarket. She used the knowledge gained to run a profitable flying flock and is looking forward to having a commercial flock again after her exams.
Georgie is looking forward to being an Ambassador, saying she will benefit in her graduate job from the skills she learns, while her growing confidence as she finishes her degree will also assist her in her Ambassador role.
“My increased knowledge from the scheme would not only benefit my future flock and my parents’ flock, but also give me the opportunity to bring things I learnt to my career in knowledge transfer,” she says. Read Georgie's blog here.
Top fact: Despite being away from home for her studies, Georgie remains involved in decisions on the family farm, saying she recently converted her father to using EBV rams.
11. Lewis Sayers (19) Bingham, Nottinghamshire: Entering the sheep sector in 2012 means Lewis is the newest of the Ambassadors to the industry and the youngest of the group – but his drive and initiative means he is more than worthy of a place.
From tracking down the owner of an abandoned piece of land to ask for the grazing, to working for ewes instead of wages, Lewis has taken some unorthodox approaches to getting started. He has now finished agricultural college and is building up his flock (currently at 75-head) by taking grazing when he can and earning money through shepherding. He has a regular collection of friends and family buying lamb from him and is identifying local pubs and restaurants to sell to, with the dream of one day having his own farm shop.
Lewis says he knows he has a lot to learn and is looking forward to meeting more sheep farmers by being an Ambassador, but hopes his progress so far will inspire new entrants and industry stalwarts alike. “Sometimes the old ways are the best, but they can also hinder us if we are not willing to try new things and to embrace new ways of thinking,” he says. “I bring a fresh perspective to the industry and a drive to keep it going and make it better in whatever way I can.” Read Lewis' blog here.
Top fact: Lewis was shortlisted for the ‘Against All Odds’ category at the British Farming Awards last autumn, a category for new entrants who refuse to take no for an answer.