The National Sheep Association (NSA) has responded to Defra’s Agriculture Bill command paper by taking the opportunity to reiterate the need for sheep farming businesses to be productive and profitable in order to deliver desirable economic, environmental and societal benefits.

The ‘Health and Harmony’ consolation sought views from farmers and farming organisations in England regarding how they would like leaving the European Union to affect agriculture.

In response to the focus of the consultation on ‘barriers to progress’, NSA chief executive Phil Stocker said: “The fundamental barrier to progress is a lack of core business profitability due to high business costs and comparatively low product prices. This is exacerbated by a culture in the UK of chasing cheaper food prices, and our future trading relationship with the EU will have an impact too. Similarly, a barrier to encouraging young people and new entrants into agriculture is the lack of reward – both financial and moral.

“NSA would like for the future of farm support to see capital investment options and incentives for efficiency improvements. We have long been promoting the need for and sense of a sheep health scheme that would support farmers in continuing to make on-farm improvements while simultaneously reducing their carbon footprint. Such a scheme would reward them for a wide range of public goods and interests, including an array of environmental and social good related outcomes.

“Investing in health measures through such a scheme would improve productivity, efficiency, the environment and welfare. It would also avoid the need to raise welfare standards in legislation, which has the potential to raise production costs and reduce competitiveness.”

Given the anticipated reduction in direct payments going forward, NSA would like to see a fair percentage-based reduction across all businesses, and would like to see more encouragement for farmers to work together for research, land management initiatives and marketing to increase efficiency and negotiating strength.

Mr Stocker explains: “While it is important to retain as many individual businesses as possible, strength and scale can be built through collaboration. But this can only be achieved over time, and NSA’s consultation response also stressed the importance of a strong transition period. Farmers are going to experience huge change over the coming years and we want to see a transition that allows them plenty of time to adapt and minimise disruption. We need the deal with the EU completed, our new Agriculture Bill on the statute books, and a food policy agreed, and then a minimum five-year period.”