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Sheep farming event says ‘Time waits for no man’ when it comes to diversification

Those who attended the National Sheep Association (NSA) Northern Region event last Friday had their eyes opened to the opportunities and potential pitfalls of ways to diversify sheep farming enterprises.

Sheep farming event ran by NSA. Butcher chopping lamb on table.
Peter Allonby, independent butcher, delivers a butchery demonstration at the event.

The Northern Region of the National Sheep Association (NSA) teamed up with AHDB and various speakers to host the event at the J36 Rural Auction Centre in Cumbria. The event considered the direct support to farm businesses declining across the UK. More farmers are considering diversifying their sheep farming activities to supplement their income.

The morning session focused on direct selling of sheep meat products, purposely coinciding with ‘Love Lamb Week’. John Geldard shared the successes of the Plumgarths Farm Shop and associated family businesses in Cumbria, while Karl Pendlebury of AHDB and independent butcher Peter Allonby delivered an excellent butchery demonstration as the backdrop to a wide-ranging discussion about adding value to lamb carcasses.

Consumers want convenience

Karl and Peter understood the many approaches to the marketing of lamb; be it through box schemes, a farm shop, farmers markets, or online retailing. They were clear that whatever the approach was, the priority had to be convenience.

“Consumers want something that is convenient and will be quick to prepare and cook – but that can be good news, as they’ll then eat lamb more often, rather than only cooking a roasting joint on a Sunday or, increasingly, only on a special occasion,” said Karl Pendlebury.

Grace Randall, AHDB retail and consumer insight manager, echoed these consumer trends. She presented how domestic lamb sales would decline if the market failed to diversify beyond roasting joints.

Sheep farming in hilly countryside with changeable weather conditions and green grass.
John Geldard said diversification will only work “to strengthen your business.”

Sheep farming must keep up with inevitable change

The attention turned to diversification ventures other than selling lamb after lunch. The sentiment of ‘time waiting for no man’, stressed throughout the morning session, was echoed in the afternoon. Speakers included Rebecca Wilson, an influencer on social media, and holiday pod entrepreneurs Vicky Slater and Kevin Holiday – both of whom have been able to thrive by adapting to the latest trends and consumer interests.

The positive attitude towards change embodied by John Geldard when he built his farm shop in the early 2000s was still applicable 20 years later and to all diversification types.

“Change will never stop; it’s about keeping up with it,” he said. “But remember, it’s important not to go into diversification to save your business. It will only work if it’s to strengthen your business. That’s been proven many times over the years. You need to build it from the bottom up.”

There were plenty of takeaways from the event for the sheep farming community to consider and action. You can find out more about the NSA and future events on the NSA website.

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