Leading figures in the Welsh sheep industry have expressed frustration at the ‘lack of understanding’ shown by the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, George Eustice.

It follows the minister’s suggestion that mixed farmers could diversify into beef production in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

National Sheep Association Cymru chair, Kate Hovers, who is also a vet and sheep farmer, stressed that a farming system can’t just be changed overnight.

She added: “Beef is a long term investment with handling equipment needed and buildings for housing, all very different from a sheep enterprise, as a lot of Wales is not suitable to out-winter cattle.

“We have many sheep-only enterprises in Wales and even those with sheep and cattle would need to increase infrastructure to expand cattle numbers. Also, with the added stress of TB, it is not a decision taken lightly to change enterprises.

"Mr Eustice’s comments demonstrate either a surprising lack of understanding of the livestock farming industry or a lack of concern. This is particularly worrying for Wales where sheep farming is a significant industry.”

Helen Roberts, National Sheep Association Cymru development officer and a Welsh sheep producer, said the minister’s comments on BBC One’s Andrew Marr Show had provoked shock and anger. He had shown a lack of understanding and, having spent five years as farming minister, should have better knowledge of the UK’s sheep farming enterprises.

NSA chief executive Phil Stocker commented: “Mr Eustice’s comments will have angered many sheep farmers, failing to identify the unique and varied nature of sheep enterprises across the country.

“To begin with, to suggest that many of our sheep farmers are mixed farmers is wrong. This assumption will enrage sheep farmers across the UK who have structured their farms to focus on sheep, and it will particularly antagonise our devolved nations where the landscape includes more remote areas of countryside, especially suited to sheep, and where buildings, machinery and farm infrastructure simply would not suit a sudden switch to cattle farming.

“The fact we have many sheep farmers, especially younger farmers and new entrants to the sector who run their sheep on arable farms and on short term grass lets, was completely ignored – simply switching to cattle would be impossible for them."