Meet the 2017 NSA Next Generation Ambassadors

For the fourth year running, a group of young people from around the UK has been selected for the NSA Next Generation initiative. Read about the 12 individuals here.

You can see where each of the 2017 Ambassadors is based in the UK by finding their number on the map.

1. Lisa Adams (32) Suffolk
It was the point when Lisa said she could sell the horns off a Jacob ram for as much as prime lambs from her commercial flock that the selection panel sat up and realised this young shepherd really understood how to make the most from her various enterprises. Lisa runs her own New Zealand Romneys, Lleyns and Jacobs alongside a full-time job on a large farming enterprise at West Harling, Norfolk. At work she manages 570 performance recorded Lleyns, as well as being involved in cattle work and a store lamb enterprise. She plans to keep on working for others, on a self-employed basis in time, while increasing her own sheep numbers to maximise sales of lamb boxes and finished stock, alongside Jacob horns, fleeces and skins. Top fact: As Eastern Region Council member for the Jacob Sheep Society, Lisa has organised open days and regional events for the general public and fellow members. She hopes to use this experience to develop her role as an NSA Next Generation Ambassador.

2. Nicola Drew (33) Powys
Having returned to the family farm in recent years, Nicola has gone into partnership with her father and is breathing new life into the 600-ewe sheep flock near Talgarth, Brecon. She is in the process of rejuvenating the soils and grassland, allowing her to keep more replacements each year and grow numbers. Keen to run a bigger and more profitable flock, Nicola says she applied for the NSA Ambassador programme to learn new skills and ensure she doesn’t take her eye off the ball, as it is attention to the finer detail that will ensure a positive future in a post-Brexit world with no guaranteed farm support payments, she says. Top fact: When asked by the selection panel if she thought there were equal opportunities for females in agriculture, Nicola spoke passionately about the need for more role models. “There are opportunities but it is daunting to go for them when all you see around you is males,” she said. “We need to give girls the confidence to get out there.”

3. Alexandria James (23) Dorset
As a contract shepherd with numerous clients in Wiltshire, Dorset and Somerset, plus her own flock of Poll Dorsets, there really aren’t enough hours in the day for Alexandria. She lambs for a fellow Dorset breeder in September, before doing her own flock ahead of Christmas, and then moving onto more conventional lambing set-ups from February to May. But she convinced the selection panel she was a long way from being a busy fool, with a clear plan for her future. She has goals in place to allow her to be less reliant on external lambing work and have more of her own sheep. Alexandria also wants to see change in the wider sheep sector, particularly when it comes to marketing UK lamb as a premium product with fantastic taste, environment and welfare credentials. Top fact: Alexandria is excited to have recently secured a contract to supply lamb to Waitrose. She plans to increase numbers and sell 300 finished Dorsets a year by 2021.

4. Rory Gregor (25) Aberdeenshire
Far from being beaten by a major set-back to his sheep farming business in 2015, Rory is showing real commitment this year by taking a six-month sabbatical from his career in structural engineering to see if he can make a fulltime living in agriculture. As a passionate Beltex breeder, Rory was personally and financially devastated when 31 pedigree in-lamb ewes were stolen from land he rents near Thainstone, Inverurie. But he has bounced back and is determined to continue working with his breeding flock while shearing in the summer and scanning in the winter. Through genetic selection and embryo transfer work, Rory has set himself some tough goals. He wants to increase to 250 ewes in order to set new breed records in the sale ring and develop the ‘perfect terminal sire’ to work in commercial systems. Top fact: Well on his way to achieving his goals, Rory has already won the Beltex group of three title at the Royal Highland Show and sold a ram lamb for 9,000gns.

5. Matthew Haydon (33) Staffordshire
With a recent decision to develop an entirely closed flock that is self-sufficient in both male and female replacements, Matthew has his work cut out for him as the employed shepherd for JCB farms near Stoke-on-Trent. The introduction of 200 performance recorded pedigree Lleyns has added another dimension to Matthew’s role, which already included the management of 1,150 Lleyn cross ewes to produce finished lambs for Daylesford Organic, JCB’s retail partnership. Matthew told the selection panel he wanted to ensure a closed flock did not mean a closed attitude, in terms of knowing what other people were doing and how the sector is evolving at this key political time. Top fact: Matthew was one of the NSA members who volunteered at Countryfile Live last summer. He says: “It was a real eye opener for me. So many people had no idea how farming sheep worked or what is involved in producing the very best lamb available. As an industry, we must make it our responsibility to better promote ourselves and market our produce.”

6. Caryl Hughes (26) Wrexham
The opportunity to farm a 600-acre Snowdonia hill farm for 12 months with the National Trust and Wales YFC in 2013/14 (as part of the Llyndy Isaf Scholarship Scheme) was a huge turning point for Caryl. It was not only an incredible learning opportunity but, coupled with a year in New Zealand as part of her university course, made her realise she definitely wanted to make sheep farming her living. Caryl has since become a partner in the family beef and sheep farm at Llangollen and taken on a tenancy nearby. She also does contract shepherding work in the area as required. Caryl wants to take more responsibility within the family business and is particularly keen to develop her understanding and use of technology within the family’s flocks of Welsh Mountain and Welsh Mule ewes. Top fact: Caryl is a passionate YFC member, currently holding the roles of Dyffryn Tanat YFC Chairman, Montgomery YFC Vice Chairman and Wales YFC Rural Affairs committee member.

7. Toby Lawton (27) Shropshire
Having only started lambing on the family farm at Newport eight years ago, Toby has convinced his father of the benefits sheep can bring to the mixed enterprise and built up numbers to 650-head. Purchases, inheritance and rental agreements have added more land to the business and, coupled with ambitions to increase stocking rates and potentially reduce the arable acerage, Toby now has his sights set on 900 ewes in the near future. Such ambition heartily impressed the selection panel, as well as Toby’s clear drive to be an active member of NSA and a confident spokesperson for the sector. He says: “Promoting the sheep sector is close to my heart and I try to get anyone involved and tell everyone about our products as a sheep and beef finisher.” Top fact: Toby is employed in two livestock markets, Market Drayton and Ludlow, grading and penning lambs. He says this regular work helps his business, in terms of regularly handling finished lambs and following the trade.

8. Joe Milligan (23) County Down
Such was the strong impression that Joe made on the selection panel, they named him as the next Farming Minister and the next Chancellor! His passion for the industry and his grasp on business finances were clear to see, yet Joe still has a long list of things he wants to achieve and repeatedly said during his interview, ‘it’s not bad but it can still be improved’. Joe works closely with his father on the sheep and beef farm at Castlewellan, 25 miles south of Belfast, and wants to ensure the business can comfortably support the two of them. With a particular interest in the ewes, he aims to improve prolificacy, milkiness and overall health in order to sell more lambs more quickly. Top fact: Joe’s appetite for information is insatiable. He is part-way through a foundation degree in agriculture with plans to upgrade to an honours degree. He and his father are also involved in the NI Sheep Business Development Group, NI Suckler Beef Programme and the Ulster Grassland Society.

9. Richard Taylor (30) Wiltshire
Richard has achieved something that is often spoken about in the sheep sector but not frequently achieved – offering grassland management in return for rent-free access to land. He does not pay for any grazing in and around his home area of Corsham and takes advantage of local affluence to sell half lambs at £75 each, as well as hogget and mutton. He started his campaign with his mother-in-law, taking on her unmaintained fields to improve aesthetics and increase sward diversity. Word spread and Richard now runs his entire flock by offering conservation grazing and grassland management to a number of clients. Currently he puts North County and Welsh Mules to Texel, Suffolk and Hampshire Down rams, but Richard has a growing interest in the Hampshires and is looking to add a pedigree flock to his enterprise. Top fact: As a passionate marketer of British Lamb, Richard threw himself into Love Lamb Week in 2016. He made special sausages for a farmers’ market and hosted a five-course lamb and hogget tasting menu in a local restaurant.

10. Howard Tratt (26) Somerset
Working on the family farm with his father and brother, Howard has made a niche for himself by taking on sole responsibility for the sheep part of the business at Lympsham. Not content just with the day-to-day management of the 320 Lleyn cross ewes and 125 replacements, he has also set up a ‘Levels Lamb’ direct marketing business selling 100% grass-fed Somerset lamb. This is something Howard plans to grow in time, as his initial focus is on building up sheep numbers and improving grassland management through rotational and strip grazing. Top fact: While there is no shortage of sheep in South West England, Howard says there are not a huge number in his area and he is excited to meet new people through the NSA Ambassador programme. He says: “Sometimes when farming at home, alone a lot of the time, it is easy to feel detached from the wider sheep sector. I’d like to meet new people and make friends and contacts who are likeminded, knowledgeable and enthusiastic.”

11. Thomas Vickers (22) County Durham 
Thomas may be the youngest person on this year’s programme but he wowed the selection panel with the maturity of his knowledge and passion for upland sheep farming. Having graduated from Harper Adams University in the summer, Thomas is working alongside this mother and uncle to produce North of England Mules from a flock of 1,200 Swaledales on the hills of Weardale. He strongly believes in the tradition of the stratified system and hefted hill flocks, but is also embracing new technology, be it genetics/recording or finding sheep on the hill using his drone. As well as balancing old and new, Thomas also believes in balancing production and environment and has a real interest in conservation and biodiversity. He takes personal pride in the increase of black grouse on the farm and wants to see the industry benefit from more farm-specific agri-environment schemes in the future. Top fact: Thomas farms less than five miles from the host of NSA North Sheep 2017 and is enjoying being part of the organising committee for this year’s event.

12. Alister Watson (25) Dumfries & Galloway
There is no shortage of strings to Alister’s bow – he works on the family farm, contract shepherds, shears and drives a lorry for MacTaggart Haulage. But within all this, his passion is breeding Lleyn sheep. He’s not afraid to criticise the breed for being ‘a bit pointy a both ends’, but sees them an asset on commercial farms when crossed to a terminal sire. He personally choses New Zealand Suffolks and Beltex to produce prime lambs, but is also hooked on performance recording to produce pure Lleyns to potentially sell at society sales. His plan over time is to spend more time with the pedigree and commercial flocks, exploiting the current understocking of the farm to develop a business that could support him on more of a fulltime basis in the future. Top fact: Having seen a ‘pop up’ pig roast shop doing a flying trade in Glasgow one evening, Alister is convinced more imaginative lamb sales techniques could benefit the industry. He is even threatening to give it a go himself!