A public commitment to fight European carcase splitting rules, a clear intention to secure tolerance on read rates of electronic eartags and a reiteration of Defra’s promise to review the six-day standstill rule all formed a positive message from Farming Minister George Eustice when he officially opened NSA Sheep 2014 yesterday.All three issues are high priorities for the National Sheep Association and Chief Executive Phil Stocker says it was gratifying to hear real commitment come from Mr Eustice, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Natural Environment, Water and Rural Affairs. He says: “NSA was delighted Mr Eustice attended the event and I am sure the time he spent with our sheep farming office holders, trade exhibitors and visitors underlined how important it is that his commitments on these vital areas result in tangible progress in the near future.”Other key concerns for the sheep sector, including liver fluke, sheep scab and encouraging the next generation of producers were all covered in the seminar area, which was packed throughout the day. The Big Debate drew the biggest crowd, where BBC Countryfile’s Tom Heap steered speakers and visitors through the thorny topic of balancing red meat supply with caring for the environment.Mr Stocker reports: “The Big Debate revealed a more positive dialogue than in the past about achieving the optimum balance between farmers and conservation groups, particularly when it comes to stocking rates in the uplands. It will never be easy to make this work in practice but, at a strategic level, there does seem to be a consensus that sheep do play an important role and that it would be helpful to recognise and reward a wider range of public goods in the uplands, rather than just focusing on environmental stewardship.”Additional high lights from the event include Euan Orr winning the Young Shepherd of the Year national final at just 18 years old. Euan comes from Tarbrax, West Calder, West Lothian, and was representing NSA Scottish Region. The inaugural NSA Sheep Event Video Competition saw Krista Magee from the Isle of Man win a cash prize of £400 for her positive message about working in the sheep sector, while another first was a competition for the pen of sheep exhibited by a breed society stand that was both true to type and provided the best commercial representation of the breed. This was won by the Welsh Mule Sheep Breeders Association.