THIS year may have been unprecedented in the history of British agriculture with the continuing trials and tribulations of the Covid-19 pandemic, but trade was also unprecedented throughout the North of England Mule Sheep Association’s 2020 gimmer lamb sales season.

Some 149,000 NEMSA-tagged ewe lambs, 2,000 up on the previous year, were successfully sold this autumn at official annual sales staged by northern auction marts – and in every single instance, averages were not only up across the board, but also well up in most cases.

Early indications were promising. Mule shearling ewe trade is often an excellent barometer as a sign of things to come. And so it proved to be, as strong shearling sales figures were maintained when North of England Mule gimmer lambs went under the hammer. Without fail, every single auction mart was upbeat about ewe lamb trade.

NEMSA’s national chairman, third generation Mule breeder Chris Harrison, who farms at Coatlith Hill, Alston, said: “To say we were pleasantly surprised with ewe lamb trade this year is an understatement. It’s fair to say we were, in fact, bowled over and our warmest thanks and continuing appreciation go to all who helped make this outcome possible – breeders, buyers and auction marts one and all.

“It is true testament in uncertain times to all the hard graft and unstinting efforts again put in by NEMSA breeders. They richly deserved the recognition and earned their just rewards, which would, of course, not have been possible without the continuing support of our buyers and users, who once again turned out in force to support us at this year’s sales."

He said many again travelled long distances from all corners of the country, including old friends from the deep south in Devon and Cornwall.

Mr Harrison said: “Huge thanks must also go to our auction marts, who pulled out all the stops to ensure the ‘sales must go on’ despite Covid-19 and made a grand job of it too, putting special, often far-reaching measures in place in order to meet government guidelines on the all-important health and safety of both vendors and buyers, and, of course, their own staff.

“Some marts continued to stage safe distancing prize shows, while others offered valuable bolt-on facilities such as live streaming of sales and online bidding for those buyers who couldn’t make it in person. One thing’s for sure – all went that extra mile and we cannot thank them enough."