What a start to my year as chairman. And what a year it was, with some of the most extreme weather conditions in living memory – both winter and summer.

Much of what I want to say is contained in the report of our 2019 annual meeting featured elsewhere in this issue of Mule News, so while I’ll avoid the risk of repeating myself here what I am keen to reiterate and stress is that we, as both NEMSA members and as breeders, must continually seek to both maintain and improve the standards of the North of England Mule on behalf of fellow breeders the length and breadth of the UK.

We have already made great strides and I wholehearredly concur with and endorse our retiring president Randal Raine’s comments at the AGM that the Mule ewe has thrived over the past 50 years and can only continue to make her mark over the next half a century and more.

We should be proud of the fact that with our membership now running into four figures we very likely remain the largest commercial sheep breed association in the UK and that the North of England Mule maintains its reputation as the country’s most popular commercial cross-breeding sheep. Long may it continue.

Our new emphasis on publicity – both in the press and via social media – has proved a great success and has certainly helped raise both our profile and our image over the past year. This enhanced promotional and marketing activity is paying real dividends and the campaign will continue in the year ahead. You will find the features we’ve done to date elsewhere in Mule News. They make interesting reading.

For our part, it is vital that we continue to have a high profile presence at shows and events across the country, both utilising our new show stand, which is proving really popular, and as exhibitors. Local, county and national shows such as the Royal Highland, Great Yorkshire, East of England, Agri-Expo, and others, work wonders in helping to promote the Mule and attract future buyers and breeders. We are set to have a presence at the Royal Welsh Show for the first time this year and this will be a great opportunity to further spread the word across an area where the North of England Mule is rapidly gaining ground.

Out of adversity last year in terms of both the devastating weather and depressed trade at our annual sales, which came as no real surprise, comes renewed optimism. We could not have hoped for a milder winter (fingers crossed as I write this in early March!) and we have good reports from the latest scannings and the prospective crop to come.

Again as I write, we are now in the face of lambing time and I for one am greatly looking forward to the next generation of the North of England Mule and to once again welcoming both regular and prospective new purchasers from all parts of the UK to this year’s autumn sales.

You, our members, are our lifeblood. I would like to thank you one and all for your support in my first – and eventful – year as chairman, with special thanks to Randal Raine, all branch chairmen and committee members, plus an extra special thank you to Marion, who has just completed her 10th year as secretary, for her continued dedicated work.

And best wishes to our new president Jeff Taylor. I am really looking forward to working with him to the benefit of both body and breed.

Thank you also to Shearwell and Animax for their continued sponsorship, which is very much appreciated. I end where I began.While we look to move ever onwards and upwards, we must never lose sight of the fact that in the face of increasing competition from the Continental breeds we must continually strive to both preserve and perfect the quality of our all-purpose North of England Mule, to promote her many and varied attributes, her versatily and flexibility.

And I once again appeal to our younger generations to get more involved with our work, our hopes and aspirations at every opportunity. They not only represent the future of both body and breed, but the very future of farming in general. My very best wishes to you all.

Kevin Wilson