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NSA SCOTSHEEP 2012 has been voted the best ever, attracting a record attendance of more than 8000 to The Morrisons Farm at Dumfries House, Cumnock, Ayrshire, on June 6.

Inclement weather during the morning – including a downpour during the opening ceremony – failed to detract from the success of the event as a wonderful showpiece for the Scottish sheep industry.

The event was hosted on the 960-acre Home Farm at Dumfries House which is run as a joint venture by the Dumfries House Trust and the UK’s fourth largest food retailer, Morrisons, who took the opportunity of NSA Scotsheep to announce a new marketing initiative for traditional lamb.

Welcoming visitors to the event – which again had Bank of Scotland as main sponsor – organising committee chairman, Neale McQuistin, said Scottish sheep producers were bullish about the future.

“The last six years, since the decoupling of farm support from headage payments, have been the most rewarding in my 36 years as a sheep farmer,” he said. “The market has been allowed to find the correct balance between supply and demand to a point where sheep farmers are looking to the market to make a profit.

“Hopefully, once the CAP reforms are finalised and with more marketing initiatives like the one created by Morrisons recently, we can look forward to the future being even better.”

The scene was set by His Royal Highness the Duke of Rothesay, who saved Dumfries House for the nation in 2007 and demonstrated his passion for the British sheep industry by spending more than two hours touring the event and visiting many of the demonstrations and trade stands.

Prince Charles said he was “incredibly proud” to host NSA Scotsheep at Dumfries House and praised sheep farmers for their resilience in difficult times and their contribution to the economy.

“I know that so many sheep farmers have an incredibly difficult time, as do many other farmers, particularly in the hills and uplands,” he said. “You have to confront challenges, changes, volatility and fluctuations in prices and I pay tribute to your remarkable resilience and your contribution to the economy, society and the environment. You are a remarkable breed and I can only salute you on this great occasion.”

Acknowledging the “roller coaster ride” sheep farmers had endured in recent years, Prince Charles welcomed the improved returns producers had enjoyed in recent years although the economics of sheep farming remained on a knife-edge.

That was why he had become so involved on both the Campaign for Wool to stimulate the increased use of nature’s natural fibre and the Mutton Renaissance Campaign to boost the consumption of a meat with a natural flavour which many consumers were shunning.

He paid tribute to Morrisons for their contribution to the £2 million redevelopment of the Dumfries House farming operation based on British native breeds such as the Beef Shorthorn and Aberdeen-Angus for beef and the Scotch Mule and Suffolk for lamb.

Morrisons took the opportunity of NSA Scotsheep to announce a partnership with the Suffolk Sheep Society to encourage the use of Suffolk sires. The initiative is modelled on Morrisons’ traditional beef scheme which pays a premium for finished cattle sired by bulls of British native breeds.

Once the programme is fully up and running, the retailer will work closely with a pilot group of farmers to source 1500 Suffolk lambs a week. Farmers will earn a premium for Suffolk-sired lambs which meet the company’s specification.

The benefits of using high performance rams have also been demonstrated in the latest results from Quality Meat Scotland’s sheep strategy programme which were announced at NSA Scotsheep.

The trials on three farms, including Dumfries House, comparing the performance of lambs by high index Suffolk rams with lambs by rams of unknown genetic merit selected on appearance only, confirmed earlier results that the offspring of high index rams will boost returns by £2-£3 per lamb sold.

The benefit comes from a combination of improved growth rates, heavier slaughter weights at a younger age and better grading.

QMS sheep strategy manager, Rod McKenzie, said the trials had once again proved there is a consistency and reliability in using high index rams which gave the lamb producer a handsome reward worth more than £5 per ewe per year.

NFU Scotland also used NSA Scotsheep to call on supermarkets to play the game with British sheep farmers by stocking more home-produced lamb. An impromptu survey by union president, Nigel Miller, found that Morrisons was the only store offering only British lamb.

Mr Miller said the recent fall in lamb prices offered supermarket the opportunity to reposition Scotch lamb in the marketplace and called on supermarket to move quickly to home-produced product, backed by active promotion.

QMS also announced an initiative offering producers the opportunity to sign up for a course on “Using sheep EID to improve the profitability of your flock.”

QMS livestock development manager, Kathy Peebles, said producers needed to overcome the fear of using EID technology to help identify good performers and turn EID into a useful management tool and not just a means of ensuring compliance with regulations.

Scotland’s Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs, Richard Lochhead, speaking at an NSA Scotsheep seminar, warned that Scottish farmers were in danger of missing a “golden opportunity” to expand the market for both Scotch lamb and beef if the decline in the national sheep flock and beef suckler herd could not be reversed.

New market opportunities were opening up for meat exports and plans by processors to increase exports would be wasted effort without the raw materials to do the job.

He cautioned farmers against being tempted to cash in on current high prices by selling breeding stock and urged them to keep an eye on the long term as they take advantage of the short term.

“Imagine if our export markets take off and we can’t supply them!” he said.

Scotland, he added, needed a much fairer allocation of CAP funding and the ability to make coupled payments to encourage farmers to maintain sheep flocks and suckler herds. He called for up to 15% of the Single Farm Payment to be allocated for coupled payments.

He also announced plans to reduce bureaucracy and red tape in Scottish agriculture with the acceptance of a two-pronged attack recommended by Scotland’s “red tape czar”, Brian Pack.

The aim will be firstly to identify needless regulations which are tying farmers up in red tape and find ways of simplifying things. Mr Pack hopes to make his recommendations within a year.

Mr Lochhead said farmers wanted to be free to farm and not burdened by bureaucracy.

“I hope that by implementing Brian’s recommendations we can give farmers the time to do what they do best – farming our land to produce high quality food for the nation and manage our magnificent countryside,” he said.

Mr Lochead also sportingly took part in a “Ready Steady Cook” challenge with BBC Countryfile presenter and sheep farmer, Adam Henson. The result of the fun lamb cookery challenge was a diplomatic draw.

* Event chairman, Neale McQuistin, expressed warm thanks to the local organising committee for their tireless work in making NSA Scotsheep such a success. Most members of the committee had turned up the next day to help the farm staff clean up the debris. “A lot of the best work in the industry goes unseen and for no financial reward,” he said. “I hope that spirit will endure for a long time.”

COMPETITION RESULTS

STOCKJUDGING

Open
1st Alistair McHarg 293 points
2nd Tom Howden 288 points
3rd Jim Cannon 287 points

26 Years and Under
1st Alistair Shaw 287 points
2nd Stuart Watson 286 points
3rd William Moses 284 points

19 Years and Under
1st George Gill 282 points
2nd Kelly Blackwood 281 points
3rd Struan MacGregor 273 points

YOUNG SHEPHERD OF THE YEAR sponsored by Rumenco

1st Kenneth O’Connor, Selkirkshire
2nd Simon Turkington, Caithness
3rd Robert McKinnon, Argyll

SHEEP DOG TRIAL

1st Fraser Shennan (17 years) with Fizz, 94 points

STAND COMPETITIONS

Best Sheep Breed Society Stand
1st Blackface SBA
2nd Charollais Sheep Society
3rd Rough Fell SBA

Best Indoor Stand

1st British Wool Marketing Board
2nd Moredun Institute
3rd Dow Agro Sciences

Best Outdoor Stand
1st Morrisons Supermarkets
2nd Solway Recycling
3rd Kubota

MAINLINE SPONSORS

Crystalyx

Scotmin Nutrition

Shearwell Data

Morrisons

Campaign for Wool

British Wool Marketing Board

Caledonian Marts

MSD Animal Health

Scotpen