THE UNCERTAINTY created by Brexit and a desire to see the family farm succeed for years to come led one Welshpool farming family to make a feathery change.
Farmers’ Union of Wales members Mark and Helen Williams, who farm 40 suckler cows and 900 ewes at Pen Y Derw, near Welshpool, decided to diversify into egg production and have been up-and-running since June this year.
The poultry unit, which is home to 16,000 free range hens, provides the family with an additional income, as well as offering extra part time employment in the area.
“We have looked at poultry farming for the last ten years and the uncertainty created by Brexit, bearing in mind that most of our income has been provided by lamb trade and farm support payments, gave us the push we needed to make the decision and get the ball rolling,” said Mark Williams.
The planning process started in early 2015 and after lots of drawings, surveys and modelling, planning was granted in November 2015.
“Egg production is mainly a domestic market, so that takes the fear of having to export away. Originally we thought we would be going into broiler chickens but when researching the market a contract was difficult to find. The final thing that made us decide were our 3 boys. We are expanding the business to accommodate them if they wish to take over the farm in the future,” added Mark.
The eggs produced at Pen Y Derw are sold to L J Fairburns & Son, who collect them to be processed (graded) and packed, and they are then sent to distribution centres and onto supermarket shelves.
The chickens produce between 14,500 – 15,500 eggs every day, and Helen is in the chicken shed by 6.30am to check the birds, before heading back to house by 7.30 to make the boys their breakfast and do the school run.
Then its back to the chicken shed to start packing eggs by 9am, which takes about three hours.
By around 5pm Helen makes her way back to shed to do the final walk around and check the hens are ok.
Talking about her new routine she said: “I have to fit things in around the boys where possible and the mornings are now taken up with the hens.
“Before I had time to do other jobs, such as housework, banking, paperwork etc. so the pace here has definitely changed. Looking after the chickens is not so heavy and physical as looking after the sheep and cattle and it’s work in a dry and warmish environment.”
Walking around the chicken shed, Mark explains the production process: “The hens lay their eggs in nest boxes. Then the eggs roll onto the egg belts, which take them onto a cross conveyor and into the packing room.
“Here they are graded by hand, go through the machine to be stamped and put in trays. Then they go along a belt into a tray stacker, which stacks trays in sixes. Once we have a run of six stacks we put them on a pallet, which is a total of 720 dozen eggs. This is then wrapped and labeled and left in the cool room for collection,” he said.
Even though the couple have now got used to their new routine, it has not all been plain sailing from the start. Helen explains: “The birds arrived in a really hot week in June and they weren’t eating or drinking enough to start, although they were still gaining weight.
“That was a bit of a worry for us but thanks to the support from Lloyds animal feed we managed to get everything sorted. We also had a few very minor teething problems with the equipment but now everything is running well. With all the eggs our hens are producing we look forward to lots of cake here at home and a reduced fertiliser bill.”
But do the couple think they have made the right decision 4 months into their new way of life?
“We are still learning and it has changed our life quite a bit, maybe ask us again in 12 months time,” laughs Helen.
Having visited the farm and seen the new chicken shed in action recently, FUW County Executive Officer Emyr Davies said: “Mark and Helen are a credit to our industry. Their enthusiasm and dedication to give their farming business a chance of survival in light of the uncertainty created by Brexit is really an inspiration.
“Of course, this sort of diversification doesn’t suit everyone and there are often stumbling blocks with regards to planning that hold many farm businesses back. I would urge those in charge of granting planning permission to think again and not be the block that holds those farms back who want to future proof their business.”
Economic value of red meat sector rises
HE VALUE of the iconic beef, lamb and pork sectors to the Welsh economy rose in 2020, as consumers turned to local, sustainable, quality food during the COVID pandemic, according to analysis by Hybu Cig Cymru – Meat Promotion Wales (HCC).New figures from the Welsh Government ‘Aggregate Agricultural Output and Income’ report show that the total value of agricultural output in Wales for 2020 is projected to stand at £1.7billion – a 6.2% (or £99 million) increase on the provisional figure for 2019.
Cattle and sheep account for 44% of this total at £750million; the highest proportion recorded since 2016. The agricultural output value for Wales’s pig sector also increased (by 34.3% or £2 million) to a value of £8 million.
The figures reflect the strength of the livestock sector in Wales and sit in contrast to Total Income From Farming (TIFF) figures for the UK as a whole newly released by Defra. Although the TIFF figures are a different form of measuring farm production, the UK data concurs that the livestock sector has had a strong year, but in other parts of Britain, this was more than offset by poor harvests in the arable sector.
Demand for beef and lamb have been strong in the domestic retail market since the immediate aftermath of the first COVID lockdown in spring 2020. After initial market volatility, marketing campaigns by HCC and other bodies encouraged consumers to recreate restaurant meals at home.
Over the past 12 months, domestic retail sales of lamb and beef have trended consistently higher, with spending on lamb 20% higher than the previous year. Sales at independent high street butchers are also strong.
Research shows many demographic groups, including families with children, buying more beef and lamb than previously, and turning to quality home-grown produce.
HCC Data Analyst Glesni Phillips said, “The strong demand for red meat from the domestic consumer has helped drive market prices for beef and lamb at Welsh livestock markets in the second half of 2020 and into the early months of 2021.
“It’s no surprise, therefore, to see that the overall value of the industry is projected to have grown. We have seen inflation in the costs on farmers, which offset some of the gains from improved market price; however, it’s heartening to see consumers’ support for quality Welsh produce.“Welsh Lamb and Welsh Beef remain key drivers of our rural economy, and given their excellent brand reputation, they act as flagship products for the growing Welsh food and drink sector.”Further analysis of the aggregate output and income figures for Welsh farms are available in HCC’s latest monthly market bulletin.
Ian Rickman: 2021 is a critical year for Wales’ farming future
THE INCREASINGLY negative narrative around livestock farming and its portrayed impact on the environment and climate change has led to farmers in Wales standing up to tell their stories and highlight the positive impact livestock farming has.
Through the Farmers’ Union of Wales’ campaign ‘Guardians of the Welsh Land’, farmers are addressing misleading claims by various groups about the role livestock farming plays in relation to climate change and the environment. Launching the campaign, FUW Deputy President Ian Rickman said: “The FUW has consistently recognised the threat represented by climate change and the need to take action. This is clear from a cursory look at our manifestos and policy documents published over the past twenty years.
“We know that farming is already responsible for a critical carbon resource in soils, woodland and semi-natural habitats and I’m pleased to launch the FUW’s environment campaign – ‘Guardians of the Welsh Land’ from my home farm here in Carmarthenshire today. As farmers are the most trusted link in the supply chain, they are best placed to communicate their stories, helping to address consumer concerns and influencing political agendas. Members can also look forward to a variety of webinars over the coming months, which will focus on the different challenges ahead for the industry and how to overcome them.
“There is no question in our mind that we need to counteract the continuation by the anti-farming lobby of their campaign to vilify and belittle domestic food producers. These attacks are corrosive and grossly misleading, negatively influencing consumer perception of the industry and influencing political agendas on a global scale.”
Mr Rickman added that 2021 is an important year for these types of conversations.
“Knocking on our door are the United Nations Food Systems Summit and COP26. The FUW has been engaging with these conversations at an international level and shares some concerns with other industries across the globe about the wider narrative and ambitions set out in inconspicuous looking documents. Plans, we and the general public don’t support. Telling the positive story of the guardians of our Welsh land is now more important than ever,” he said.
Starting in the first week of June, the campaign introduces four farmers all of whom tell the story of how they are addressing environmental and climate change needs in their unique ways: Carmarthenshire organic sheep farmer Phil Jones, the Roberts family from Meirionnydd, Ceredigion dairy farmers Lyn and Lowri Thomas and FUW President Glyn Roberts who farms with his daughter Beca at Dylasau Uchaf in Snowdonia.
“The campaign will further highlight that Welsh farmers are rising to the challenge of improving soil health and increasing organic matter in soils, improvements which represent further opportunities for sequestering more carbon. These improvements, the campaign will highlight, are achieved through specific livestock grazing patterns and rest periods. The campaign is also clear that the correct options, guidance and rewards are required to encourage more farmers to adopt such systems,” said Mr Rickman.
Soil, the campaign will stress, is a long term investment and at present, around 410 million tonnes of carbon is stored in Welsh soils and 75,700 hectares of Wales’ woodland (25%) is on farmland, representing an important and growing carbon sink.
“As acknowledged in Natural Resources Wales’ State of Natural Resources Report, using land for food production is an essential part of natural resource use and management. Whilst we acknowledge that agricultural intensification has undeniably had negative impacts on some species and ecosystems, there is overwhelming evidence that other factors, including reductions in agricultural activity and afforestation, have also had severe negative impacts,” he added.
Excellent Easter for lamb sales
Lamb proved a popular choice for consumers over Easter with retail sales soaring above the last two years. This demand has been reflected at livestock markets where farmgate prices are still standing strong.
At a time when lamb is always a firm favourite, this year people of all ages were both buying and spending more as a result of a renewed interest in sourcing quality, local produce and cooking at home.
In the 12 weeks to 18 April 2021, the total volume purchased was up 14.8% on the year, and 6.0% higher than in 2019. Consumer spend on lamb reached £190.0 million, which was 18.7% more than in 2020 and 14.6% higher than the same period in 2019.
Lamb leg roasting joints were the most sought-after cuts despite the fact that Covid-19 restrictions on large gatherings remained, followed by chops and mince.
Hybu Cig Cymru – Meat Promotion Wales’ (HCC) Data Analyst, Glesni Phillips said: “Lamb performed exceptionally well over the Easter period this year. It saw a 10.2% increase in the number of buyers engaging with the product and a rise of 3.3% in the frequency of which lamb was bought.
“The average price of lamb was also higher, but this obviously did not deter new buyers. The figures show that there are new buyers in all age categories, but this is especially true for shoppers aged under 45 years and those with children.
“The pandemic has led to more consumers cooking at home, giving many the opportunity to realise and enjoy the exceptional qualities and versatility of Welsh Lamb, and at the same time, support the local economy.”
Butchers also benefitted from the popularity of lamb in the run-up to Easter with total spend increasing by 16.1% on the year. The volume sold also increased, by 12.6%.
Glesni Phillips added: “As we approach the end of Spring, the consumer demand for lamb is continuing. This can be seen in the liveweight lamb prices which remain strong when compared to historical averages, with the average SQQ in Wales standing at 329.7p/kg in Wales for the week ending 15 May 2021.
“New season lambs are now entering the market – they accounted for over 70% of lambs at auction in Wales during the latest week – but the supply is still relatively tight. HCC is looking forward to working with retailers over the coming months on new activity, which will include in-store marketing, press and targeted digital communication to maintain this growth in sales. Butchers, who demonstrated their key role in the community during the pandemic, will also be offered training on a number of key skills to boost their sales even further.”
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