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Farming

Agriculture’s importance emphasised

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(L-R): Stephen Mansel Davies, Cabinet Secretary for Environment and Rural Affairs, Lesley Griffiths, Kaye Mansel Davies, FUW Deputy President, Brian Thomas, and FUW President, Glyn Roberts

(L-R): Stephen Mansel Davies, Cabinet Secretary for Environment and Rural Affairs, Lesley Griffiths, Kaye Mansel Davies, FUW Deputy President, Brian Thomas, and FUW President, Glyn Roberts

A DELEGATION of Farmers’ Union of Wales officials met with Cabinet Secretary for Environment and Rural Affairs, Lesley Griffiths, on Monday (Aug 15) to discuss the wider economic and social importance of agriculture to the rural and urban economy as well as the importance of encouraging the next generation into the industry. 

The meeting was held at Llwyncelyn Lan farm, Llanfyrnach – home of FUW Deputy President Brian Thomas who has been farming here since 1988. The delegation then visited Mansel Davies and Son Ltd. to discuss the history and nature of the business and its interrelationship with the agricultural industry and rural economy.

Brian Thomas, who farms 280 acres, 30 acres of which is woodland, in North Pembrokeshire, runs a herd of 100 beef shorthorn cattle and a flock of 300 ewes, with cereals also being grown.

Speaking after the meeting, FUW Deputy President Brian Thomas said: “I would first of all like to thank Lesley Griffiths for meeting us here at my home farm. We had wide ranging discussions on farming matters and used the opportunity to highlight the important role farming plays in our rural economy.

“If we are to encourage the next generation to take up farming, it has to be viable for them. Looking around here, there are only one in eight farms that have children who want to take over the family business. The average age of farmers in my local area is 60 plus, so we need to put measures in place that ensure these farms have a future for the sake of our rural economy.

“I see the future for farming in youth. However, with farm household incomes averaging around £13,000 a year and working hours exceeding 60+ per week – why would they? Due to the nature of the business, we are only ever one step away from a crisis.

“Our farming businesses provide stability for the rural economy, income for our children and our families and hold communities together. We now have an opportunity to do something great – and that is shaping our own future in terms of markets and legislations, a point we made clear to the Cabinet Secretary here today.”

Highlighting how important the second and third sector businesses are in making the wheels of our rural economies go around were Stephen and Kaye Mansel Davies of Mansel Davies and Son Ltd.

The company was established in 1875 by the late John Davies. Mansel Davies, his son, joined the business in 1900 and the company still uses that name today. The company is now run by Kaye Mansel Davies (Chairman), fourth generation, and his son Stephen Mansel Davies (Managing Director). The next generation are already involved in the company.

They currently employ over 300 people and operate 180 trucks, with all of its employees living within a 40 mile radius of Llanfyrnach. Apart from the local authority and the oil refinery, they are the largest employers in Pembrokeshire with an annual turnover just short of £30 million.

Stephen Mansel Davies highlighted that 90% of the company’s work is linked to agricultural, saying that: “We are the largest milk haulier in Wales, collecting 1.4 million litres per day for seven different buyers and doing UK distribution for a further two buyers. Our total milk or milk products movements comes to about four million litres per day.”

The company delivers milk and milk products into processors in Newcastle Emlyn, Llangefni, South Caernarfon, Felinfach, Acton, London, Southampton, Droitwich, Bridgewater, Westbury, North Tawton, Aylesbury, Chester, Severnside and a number of other factories around the UK.

Another important sector of the business is the distribution of animal feed in the area. Mansel Davies and Son are also the largest suppliers of ground limestone, which they also spread on to the land for soil neutralisation.

Following the meeting with the Cabinet Secretary, Stephen Mansel Davies said: “All of those who are involved in Government need to understand how important agriculture is to Wales – it’s the only sustainable long term industry we have. When you look at the numbers employed directly and indirectly into the sector, it is far more important than people and Government give it credit for.

“Agriculture, and in particular the dairy industry, has just gone through very hard times with farm gate prices dropping in the region of 30%, which is not sustainable. As a direct result of low milk prices, we have seen volumes drop 11% from July 15 to July 16. If managed correctly, I think Brexit could bring long term positives to agriculture – the important part will be the management by government of the transition period and the short term.”

The Union will continue to highlight how much farming matters through regular meetings with key decisions makers, industry stakeholders, as well as Governments in Westminster and Cardiff.

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Farming

FUW welcomes new minister

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Minister for the Environment: Hannah Blythyn

THE FARMERS’ UNION OF WALES has welcomed the announcement in continuity in the Welsh Government, following the Cabinet reshuffle (Nov 3), which saw Lesley Griffiths continuing in her role as Cabinet Secretary for Energy, Planning and Rural Affairs, with the addition of a deputy, Hannah Blythyn as Minister for Environment.

Responding to the news, FUW President Glyn Roberts said: “We welcome the continuity of keeping Lesley Griffiths as our Cabinet Secretary. Our working relationship has been a positive one and we look forward to continue working with her.

“With issues such as climate change and water management dominating agendas such as those listed in the Well-being of Future Generations Act, we are pleased to see Mrs Griffiths will be able to continue to fight for the interests of our rural communities – communities for which agriculture is a cornerstone.

“We are also pleased to see that Hannah Blythyn has joined the Cabinet. The addition of a new Minister recognises the complexity of the portfolio and we look forward to working with Hannah in the context of her remit.

“We met with Lesley Griffiths last week and will now seek a meeting with Hannah Blythyn at the earliest opportunity, to discuss those issues which are of concern to farmers and have an impact on all aspects of her portfolio.”

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Farming

Commitment on funding welcomed

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Addressing NFU Cymru conference: Lesley Griffiths

NFU CYMRU has welcomed the Welsh Government reaffirming its commitment to ring-fence funding for Welsh farming post-Brexit.

Last week NFU Cymru met with Cabinet Secretary for Environment and Rural Affairs, Lesley Griffiths AM, and in a wide ranging discussion covering a range of topics, Brexit topped the agenda.

Following the meeting, NFU Cymru President Stephen James said: “I am pleased that in our meeting with the Cabinet Secretary, Lesley Griffiths AM, she reaffirmed the commitment from the First Minister that funding for Welsh agriculture from the UK Government to the Welsh Government will be ring-fenced for Welsh farmers post-Brexit.”

The Cabinet Secretary’s commitment follows on from a response that the First Minister gave to Plenary on October 24 and reaffirms the commitment in the Welsh Government / Plaid Cymru Securing Wales’ Future document which stated that it is ‘essential that equivalent or greater resources to those Wales would have received from the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) are provided from the UK to support Welsh farming’.

Stephen James continued: “NFU Cymru’s message on future funding arrangements has been clear and unequivocal. Governments in Cardiff and Westminster must maintain current levels of investment for farming in Wales, to ensure Welsh farmers remain competitive and can continue to produce food to the highest standards whilst maintaining and enhancing our environment and meeting our climate change obligations.

“At Plenary, the First Minister mentioned that he would consider looking at alternate ways of working and we would absolutely agree with that. This is an opportunity for us in Wales to work collectively to create a new agricultural policy framework that helps to achieve our vision of a productive, progressive and profitable farming industry that delivers jobs, growth and investment for Wales.

“We see the development of a new policy framework as an evolution over a period of time, with the timeframe for change very much determined by our future trading relationship with the EU.

“With the UK Government having committed to the same cash total in funds for farm support until the end of this Parliament, the next step is for the UK Government to clarify how these funds will be allocated amongst the home nations. This allocation should be based on the current formula for distributing CAP funds within the UK.

“Farming is a long term business and we need clarity and certainty on a range of issues including funding, trade and future agricultural policy. Developing agricultural policy and budgetary frameworks should be developed in partnership between the governments of the UK, so that a common policy framework can be agreed. A common policy, but a policy which allows flexibility for each country to take account of the pattern and practice of farming within their country.”

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Farming

Family farms on the brink

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Under threat: Over 80% of small farms are struggling

FEWER than one in five family farms are making a profit from their farming activity, according to research undertaken by the Andersons Centre on behalf of The Prince’s Countryside Fund.

Analysis of data from 172 participants in the first year of The Prince’s Farm Resilience Programme has shown that the average farm made more than £20,000 loss from farming activities, and instead is reliant on other income streams to make a profit.

The shortfall was made up by income from non-farming activity, such as tourism enterprises, renewables, direct selling of products to the consumer, or income from working off farm as well as farm payments.

According to the report, broadly speaking, farmers face two business choices in order to cope with declining economic fortunes: either to focus on a farming solution or to redeploy resources away from agricultural production. In reality, it may be a combination of the two or farmers may vacillate between the two courses of action with periods of off-farm work generating income interspersed with a focus on the farm.

There are, of course, two further options open to farmers. First, they may cease farming, either entirely through selling up the farm or by letting their land. Or secondly, they might tighten the belt and continue business as usual.

Worryingly, many operators of small farms, believe the near future will see them retiring or otherwise leaving agriculture altogether.

Lord Curry of Kirkharle, chairman of The Prince’s Countryside Fund said: “Although the initial figure is startling, the research from the Andersons Centre shows that farmers are increasingly looking at their farms as a business, and are proactively looking for how they can generate an income from diversified sources to remain profitable.

“This is more crucial now than ever. Farmers must develop their skills and improve their business confidence to survive. If they do not, the risk of extinction for the family farm is very real; farmers must act now to both strengthen their core farming business and to spread the risk.

“The Prince’s Farm Resilience Programme is vital, because it equips farmers with the tools they need to remain financially stable. Maintaining diversity of farm size is essential to protect the British countryside and our rural communities.”

The Andersons Centre developed a bespoke and easy to use Business Health Check Tool for The Prince’s Farm Resilience Programme, allowing farmers on the programme to benchmark their performance, identify their strengths and weaknesses, and make informed business decisions as a result. Data from this tool was analysed to identify trends and performance in the farm businesses involved in the initiative.

The Prince’s Farm Resilience Programme aims to help 300 family farms, across 15 locations, each year. It brings together like minded family farm enterprises in local networks, to review their current activity and identify improvements and opportunities that can be made on-farm to build resilience, effectively helping farmers to take control of their businesses. Farmers who took part in the first year have confirmed they have higher levels of confidence in their business, better business management, and stronger communication within their family.

The Prince’s Farm Resilience Programme directly addresses some of the issues raised in a report commissioned by the Fund from the University of Exeter, ‘Is there a future for the small family farm in the UK?’

The report detailed how the loss of small family farms would have devastating effects for the British countryside, leading to loss of employment, breakdown of rural communities, and potential negative environmental consequences. The report concluded that it was essential to maintain a diverse range of farm sizes, but that this was in significant jeopardy.

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