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UK sheep farmers head to Italy for EU-funded project

Two National Sheep Association members travelled overseas to learn about organic livestock production, as part of an EU-funded, Turkish-led project.

James MacCartney runs 600 breeding ewes and 150 cattle alongside various diversification schemes.

Sheep farmers Mike Adams and James MacCartney have been selected to take part in the project after an interview process.  

NSA is part of the E-Organic Erasmus project, working to collate European information into a free-to-access online resource (including but not limited to sheep) and facilitate nominated individuals from the participating countries (Italy, Spain, Turkey and the UK) to visit each other on study trips.

Phil Stocker, NSA chief executive, says: “This is an interesting project for NSA to be involved in, with some different views about organic livestock farming and the accessibility of information from all parts of Europe. We have a strong network in the UK with organic systems and standards clearly established, but there is still much for us to learn from our European neighbours, as well as share with them.

“It is also a fantastic opportunity for two sheep farmers to travel overseas, widening their horizons and bringing back information to share within the NSA membership. We are lucky to have found two individuals who are passionate about what they do and interested to learn from the other participants in the project, picking out relevant information to UK systems and learning more about the similarities and differences between us and other European countries.”

By coincidence, Mike and James farm just eight miles from each other near Oakham, Rutland. Having previously not known each other, they arrived in Milan, Italy, last week to spend five days visiting organic farms and learning more from the Humus Network of Italian organic cooperatives and organisations.

Mike Adams has just entered organic conversion and has looked at various regenerative agricultural methods.

Mike Adams
Mike is a first-generation farmer who established his own flock in 2005. After experimenting with various breeds, he is moving towards Poll Dorsets, lambing three times in two years, alongside similarly recently established beef and arable enterprises.

He says: “Our long-term plan is to concentrate on Poll Dorsets, increasing to 600-plus-head, maintaining a closed flock and continuing to lamb three times in two years to give us a consistent supply of lambs throughout the year, which in turn gives us more marketing opportunities. We are aiming to increase our suckler herd to around 40 cows and finish all the offspring.”

Having just entered organic conversion, Mike adds: “We looked at various regenerative agricultural methods, as these will really help improve our tired soils, and organic conversion seemed the sensible approached – both from a financial perspective and because it fits neatly in our mixed farming system.”

James MacCartney
James is not farming organically, but is likewise interested in regenerative agriculture, particularly improving grazing management and sward quality. He runs 600 breeding ewes and 150 cattle alongside various diversification schemes, with plans to increase sheep numbers as grazing management improves. To maintain a closed flock, James is replacing his North Country Mules with Lleyns.

He says: “I am interested in investigating where conventional livestock systems can learn from organic and regenerative practices to improve sustainability and reduce inputs. I am open to ideas and the E-Organic Erasmus trip will give me a great opportunity to learn from farming in parts of Europe that I know little about.

“I feel we are too quick to always look to the Southern Hemisphere for ideas and improvements and am sure there are things to be learnt much closer to home. I look forward to relaying this information back to other members.”

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