SHEEP farmers must become the champions of their own industry in order to combat recent negative publicity surrounding agriculture. That was the message to Blackface sheep breeders at the association’s AGM, held in Stirling.
Speakers included Doug Bell, QMS director of industry development, and Douglas Ross, MP for Moray and current Under-Secretary of State for Scotland. Both acknowledged the importance of grazing livestock on the hills, to encourage biodiversity and protect carbon stocks, and said getting that positive message across is vital.
Mr Bell added: “When people hear something enough times, they believe it, and that’s what’s happening with the misinformation regarding the sheep industry’s carbon emissions. The way emissions are measured should be specific to each particular sector and we need to be using appropriate figures and put things in context.
“Livestock is fundamentally important in managing the habitat on the hills. We have some of the highest carbon soils in the world and hill farmers are responsible for managing that and making sure it is not depleted.
“There are so many positive factors that can be highlighted, to convert the negative stories into positive ones and the Blackface breed has a fantastic story to tell – we just need to spread the message. You are all ambassadors of your own industry.”
That point was reiterated by Mr Ross, who also assured attendees of the Government’s commitment to UK farming, with regards to Brexit and any forthcoming trade deals. “We are proud of the high standards built up in this country and will walk away from trade deals if there is any threat of that being undermined. There are significant opportunities for Scottish agriculture going forward.
“A lot of discussions around agriculture have been negative recently and that does the industry a lot of disservice. You should be proud of what you have done and what you are doing,” he added.
The meeting saw David Shedden retire as president after two years, describing it as ‘a privilege’ to have taken on the role for the breed, which has 1,600 members and 14 active branches.
He is succeeded by Alec Telfer, of Broadmeadows Farm, Selkirk, who has been involved in the breed for almost 40 years and says he is looking forward to the challenge.
“The future is looking bright for the breed – times are changing but we have to be at the forefront of those changes. We are climate champions and we have a great story to tell,” he said. Glenkindie farmer, Sandy Smith, a successful breeder of Perth-type Blackfaces, took on the role of vice-chairman.