Well, where do I start, at the beginning I suppose! First of all I would like to thank my predecessor, Kevin Wilson, who did an excellent job as chairman. He worked tirelessly to promote and support North of England Mules.
Last January I was walking from the car park to St James Park (theatre of misery at present!) with my good friend Paul Staley to watch Newcastle United, and as we passed the Royal Victoria Infirmary (RVI) in Newcastle, we commented that there were two patients in the hospital that had made national news with a sickness called corona virus.Little did we know how this was going to affect the coming year! The virus began to spread and restrictions were put in place, but fortunately we as farmers were able to go about our daily chores, enjoy the open spaces and fresh air.
By the end of March as we headed into lambing the weather improved after several weeks of rain, the sun shone and the grass grew and it kept going right through April and May, which resulted in an excellent lambing for all. Reports of loads of lambs - even talk of too many!
The Royal Cornwall Show, North Sheep, usually held in the first week in June and regularly attended by exhibitors, NEMSA branches and members, were cancelled, along with other regional shows.
The Royal Highland Show and the Great Yorkshire followed suit in July. All these shows are great showcases for the North of England Mule and it must have been disappointing for all exhibitors involved. A few online shows were held around the region, great pictures were taken and champions were selected.
My father had a saying: ‘A droppy May for plenty of corn and hay’ and this was certainly true for 2020. We had a very dry May and while silage crops were well below the previous year quality was good and the following “fogs” were excellent, producing plenty of good fresh grass for the lambs.
The sale season approached and a special mention must go to all the auction marts throughout the country who were determined to hold the annual and weekly sheep sales. Special measures were put in place to make sure all vendors and buyers were well protected and these measures are still in place today. Marts must be commended for keeping business as usual in difficult circumstances.
The annual Shearwell Thame Summer Sheep Fair in August is usually a barometer to the forthcoming gimmer lamb trade and with an entry of 6,500 Mule shearlings selling at an average £142.55 the omens looked good.
When the backend glimmer lamb sales started, lambs were in good condition, trade was good, there were plenty of buyers from all parts of the UK, sale averages were up around £20 on the previous year and most vendors were satisfied. The lambs were being sold at a realistic value. The store lamb trade was also good and even though no Brexit deal had been done buyers were still showing confidence in our product. A deal has now been struck and it looks like sheep exports will continue into Europe without tariffs. The lamb trade has held up and long may it last.
All members would have received a letter regarding the newly-formed Mule Group, of which NEMSA is now a part. A few members have raised concerns about our involvement, but the majority realise the benefits of being part of a group that promotes all Mules. NEMSA is by far the largest association within the group of seven associations, but our identity will not be diminished by our involvement. NEMSA will continue to promote North of England Mules independently and there has been no cost to the association by being part of this group.
At the time of writing it was the middle of February. Some of us will have had the Covid jab and some will still have it to get. Hopefully this is the start of getting back to some sort of normality, with talk of shows resuming in the autumn maybe, meetings face to face and lamb trade holding up. This, of course, would be most welcome for us all in 2021.