GARRIGILL farmer Thomas Carrick couldn’t have stepped into his role with the National Sheep Association at a more turbulent time for Britain.

But that made big occasions such as the biennial North Sheep all the more important, said the new chairman of the NSA’s northern region.

The hugely successful event, held this year in Settle, North Yorkshire, attracted more than 6,000 visitors and a record number of trade stands too.

It was just one of the many opportunities Thomas gets to take soundings, to hear what his brothers and sisters-in-arms are talking and, sometimes, worrying about.

“It’s quite simple really, because there are relatively few things that worry us, bar the weather, which you can’t do anything about,” he said.

“Trade at the moment is pretty good. New export opportunities seem to be coming through, which will hopefully be a foundation for our market for years to come.

“But that is counteracted by the uncertainties of Brexit, which makes it difficult for us to plan – that’s the main thing worrying farmers, especially on the upland sheep farms.”

Not only did farmers get a lot of support from Europe financially, but access to the single market was incredibly important for the type of lambs and carcases coming off the hills, he said.

“Europe is our biggest market, so any barriers to trade will create a problem in relation to our lamb prices.”

The most popular seminar at North Sheep had been the one about the emerging Environmental Land Management Scheme, with farmers keen to know what would replace the current environmental stewardship schemes.

There was a strong feeling, though, that politicians lacked the requisite understanding of the industry.

“We’ve had decades of politicians involved in agriculture who haven’t had a massive role in managing farming,” he said.

“It has mostly been left to Europe, so we have to educate a new generation of politicians who need to learn about the industry and the different needs of the uplands and lowlands.

“The NSA has an important role to play in helping them appreciate the needs of the sheep sector and what it brings to society in general and to northern rural areas in particular.

“North Sheep took place on a family farm and that really showed how a community knits together around farming.

“If you were to remove some farms in that area it would have a disastrous effect on the local economy and schools.”

His primary duty during the next two years as chairman was to convey to politician and public alike the importance of sheep farming.

But he too felt he was benefiting from the education process. “I have met an awful lot of people during my time with the NSA and have learned something from just about every one of them!”