Sheep farmers have to create a new sheepmeat product if there is to be a market for the sector which is heavily dependent on exports.

As Brexit looms and the younger generation seek more exciting and convenient eating experiences, National Sheep Association chief executive, Phil Stocker, and McDonalds franchisee, Ron Mounsey, a former dairy farmer, told NSA members it is up to them to produce something appealing to sell.

Speaking at an NSA branch annual meeting, Mr Mounsey, who runs 15 McDonalds restaurants, said lamb had been used in a McDonalds promotion called ‘Great Tastes of the World’, an Indian burger, but it had only ‘gone down OK’, with it proving difficult to cook right.

"I’ve always challenged it back to the industry – if you can come up with a product, then we will probably look at it. It depends on the market of course," said Mr Mounsey.

“The challenge is out there to show something that we can perhaps use. No promises, obviously, because we have a Tasting Panel and a Chef’s Council, a group of top chefs who develop our tastes and our burgers.”

Phil Stocker picked up on the theme and addressed the challenge of ‘putting some excitement and interest’ into the 20-40 age group market and to tap into international cuisine options and taste experiences.

"We believe we can do something in that more artisan end of the market, linked with our British heritage and traditional sheep farming, and creating interest in both local and global markets, alongside the industry’s core offering,” said Mr Stocker.

He warned that the sheep industry is probably more at risk from Brexit than any other sector, with prices and trade crucial to the sector. Sheep farmers generally are heavily reliant on Pillar 1 and Pillar 2 payments too.

“We export somewhere in the region of 30-35% of our product each year and 96% of that goes into the European Union. So if we end up crashing out of the EU and we fall back onto WTO tariffs we could be facing tariffs of up to 50% of the value and that could add another £2 or £2.50 per kg onto lamb going into Europe.

“That is not all going to be absorbed within the market place. There will be pressure on farmgate prices if it happens. And then you’ve got the future of farm support, you’ve got not just this Government but the previous Government, the Conservative and Liberal coalition and previously the Labour Government, so all three of our leading political parties have all pushed and tried to drive support to agriculture down in this last 15/20 years.

“The Treasury wants to see less money going into agriculture, so we’ve got a job on our hands if we want to keep the budget going into agriculture and rural development. We’ve got a job on our hands if we want to keep that money going to active farmers to do what they need to do.”

He urged that public expenditure on sheep farming could be justified. It was about teasing out the public good, but there had to be a more intelligent argument to show what the public gained in return for the money paid to farming.

Mr Stocker also urged farming organisations to ‘grow up’ and recognise the value of working with other organisations. He stressed that there is more to be gained by working collaboratively.