ENCOURAGING the younger generation is essential for the industry, Kevin Wilson, retiring chairman Kevin Wilson told the 36th annual meeting of the North of England Mule Sheep Association at the Morritt Arms, Greta Bridge.

The North Yorkshire sheep farmer – who farms with his wife Daphne and son James at Hewness House Farm, Blubberhouses - said NEMSA was attempting to improve links with agricultural colleges across the UK .

Mr Wilson said he had thoroughly enjoyed his two-years in office, attending shows and events, both near and far. Regarding 2019 lambing, he said the annual sales started slowly, with buyers cautious, but improved through the season, with average prices up on 2018.

He said the breed was gaining a greater presence in the farming press. “Even Jeremy Clarkson has seen the light, buying Mules at Thame for his farm. We have also been asked to find a shepherd for lambing time, which is to be filmed for a TV programme. This is a great opportunity for us to gain more support and publicity for our commercial breeding sheep which must not be missed," he said.

He also stressed the importance of social media and urged members to keep posting articles and pictures to further promote the breed.

Mr Wilson said: "Eventually, Brexit has happened and we have left Europe, but none of us knows what the outcome will be in the future. However, the finished lamb prices at the moment are good, so let’s hope they are maintained.

"We must keep our standards up, keep pushing the North of England Mule, improving the breed and staying at the top. I am sure more opportunities will appear."

Unanimously elected to succeed Mr Wilson as chairman was vice-chairman Chris Harrison, who farms at Coatlith Hill, Alston. A third generation Mule breeder, now joined by his son Richard, the family keeps a 700-strong flock of Swaledale ewes, which are put to bought-in Bluefaced Leicester tups – the dam and sire of the all-purpose North of England Mule.

The vice-chairman’s role has been filled by Jonathan Hodgson, who farms at High Borrans, Windermere. Geoff Taylor, who farms in Great Asby, was re-elected president and Jeff Burrow, of Kendal, as treasurer. All other officer were re-elected en bloc. Guest speaker was farmer and building contractor Mark Smith, founder and managing director of The HACS Group in Ripley, Harrogate.