Farming Connect Study Visit - Future Farmers of Wales

The following report has been written by the farmers and forester who took part in the visits. All views and opinions included are their own.

Future Farmers of Wales

North Wales Study Visit

29th & 30th September 2017

1        Background

The Future Farmers annually visit various areas of the UK with a group of innovative and passionate farmers. This year, we decided to visit the following holdings and enterprises in North Wales:

1. Rhys Williams, Trygarn Farm, Pwllheli
Rhys Williams’ New Zealand dairy set-up on his owned holding. Rhys is an innovative and well known dairy farmer, specialising in share farming opportunities. Having studied at Aberystwyth, Rhys worked on dairy holdings in Wales and then New Zealand, before finding an opportunity to return back to Wales to start share farming. Rhys now runs four holdings through share farming ventures.

During the visit, we hope to gain an understanding of the opportunities Rhys and his family had when returning to Wales, the challenges and how share farming works for a dairy enterprise. We hope to gain an insight into how dairy holdings can split profits based on shares and how Rhys can manage a number of holdings with careful management. We also hope to have an opportunity to see the only farm he owns and runs on a day to day basis and a detail into the breeding of replacements and grassland management.

2. Richard & Harri Parry, Crugeran, Pwllheli
A visit to Richard and Harri Parry’s stabiliser beef herd along with the family’s self-catering business and a newly constructed chicken and egg laying shed.  The family have a large herd of stabilizer suckler cattle and we hope observe the cattle to understand their breeding qualities. We would also like to learn about the farm’s water system and how these cattle are sold to the market.
The family also run an 800 ewe flock lambing in January or mid-February. We wish to understand how the family runs such a high volume flock along with other enterprises on the land, not only on lowland but hill land.

A new 32,000 free range hen unit has been built and we wish to get a better understanding of the SPG grant, which they were successful in, as well as the other cereal crops grown on the holdings.

The family also run a number of self-catering cottages which are a diversification enterprise from the main farm holding. 

3. Dylan Jones, Castellor Farm, Anglesey
A visit to Dylan’s beef unit and his intensive sheep herd and arable land to see how the farm has developed from the 1960’s. We hope to gain a good understanding of the sheep and arable enterprises in Anglesey and with a different planning system applicable without General Permitted development, we hope to develop a better understanding of planning applications for agricultural uses.

4. Halen Môn, Anglesey - Salt Business Tour
We are interested to see how the business has grown from a small oyster enterprise evolved into a wholesale fish and game business and the set up The Sea Zoo to the development of selling salt in 1999. The company now produces high quality salt products sold across the world. We are interested in hearing how the business began, what is involved in making salt from the seawater and how they market the product.

2        Itinerary

Day 1:

Rhys Williams, Trygarn Farm, Pwllheli
The group was able to ask a number of questions following an in-depth description of how Rhys and his family are farming five various enterprises, including their own holding which we were visiting. Rhys explained the successes and down falls of shared farming and how with great leadership and finding the right workers, a successful enterprise can be sustainable.  We looked into various positives and negatives of shared farming and gained an understanding of how this arrangement can work both legally and practically, for both landowners and occupiers, farmers and staff.

We also had an insight into how the holding, which was managed on one and a half workers, was run. Calving took place over 8 weeks with cows grazing the platform surrounding the homestead. Winter housing and self-feed silage were also available. We discussed grazing paddocks and measuring the grass by weighing the grass on a weekly basis to understand how each field was recovering.

Richard & Harri Parry, Crugeran, Pwllheli

During the visit to the Parry family farm, we learnt that the stabilisers suckler herd was formed when five farmers went to America to purchase embryos. The stabiliser beef herd had been bred in four different ways to achieve hybrid vigour. The Parry family sell all the beef stock and don’t buy in any stock other than 15 embryos at the cost of £10,000 per year.  They monitor the feed intake against the daily live weight gain with the aim of a 4% gain.

The family also run a flock of 800 ewes consisting of 300 Lleyn ewes and 500 New Zealand cross Suffolk ewes. They lamb in January to mid-February and all are sold to Waitrose supermarkets. 

In addition, the family had recently set-up a 32,000 free range hen unit with the use of the SPG grant. This was currently in construction with the hens arriving shortly. Again, all eggs will be sold to Waitrose.   We discussed in depth the construction of the building which has a conveyor system for the manure and bio-security methods against avian flu.

Altogether, the family farm 385 acres at home and an additional 350 acre hill farm, which is used for summer grazing of cattle and sheep only. All the cereals are grown in-house, bar some of the blend for the cattle and sheep.

Bulls and steers are sold to Morrisons at 13-14 months old, when they achieve a weight of 650 kilos. The family would like abattoirs to move away from the Euro grid for meat quality such as the system in Australia.  Cattle are fed on a high concentrate feed where the silage is only fed for fermentation of the digestive system. The ongoing research into cattle and sheep grazing is shown with full produce achieving the daily live-weight gain and achieving the best grade when going to market.  The water quality of the holding is quite important.  There was no stagnant water as constant fresh water was provided for all livestock.

The business has also diversified into holiday cottages, which is a side line from the farm business. They had five self-catering cottages as well as a large house, which can accommodate up to 20 people.  From the visit to the Parry family we learnt how a family in the area was able to diversify, making the most of grant aid work and utilising the land to its best ability. 

Day 2:

Dylan Jones, Castellor Farm, Anglesey

We visited Dylan Jones and his family, a father and son team running a successful beef and sheep enterprise in Anglesey. The business consisted of a beef finishing unit, 900 ewe flock and arable crops on 800 acres. The farm has grown substantially since its purchase in the 60s with the family purchasing neighbouring land totalling 650 acres owned and 150 rented locally. The farmland allows the family to grow crops and this is a huge financial benefit to the business as all feed and straw is grown in house and no feed is bought in. We also gained a good understanding of the planning system for agricultural buildings and how the planning system is different in Anglesey. All enterprises and land management were undertaken to the highest of standard and it was a pleasure to see the livestock and the housing facilities as result of the investment and dedication of the family.

Halen Môn, Anglesey
After developing the Anglesey Sea Zoo, the family decided to sell the Zoo to concentrate on expanding the Sea Salt business from the passing Meni Strait waters. Using charcoal-filtered seawater drawn from the Menai Strait, the sea water passes through a mussel bed and a sandbank before entering the factory. The sea water is heated in a vacuum at a low temperature which turns the water to steam and into a salty brine. It’s then sent to crystallisation tanks for the salt crystals to form. Once formed, the salt is harvested by hand.  The majority of the sea salt is kept natural before packing, some are blended with other ingredients and seasoning or kiln smoked for bespoke blends. 

In 2014, the company was awarded Protected Designation of Origin status by the European Commission, a legal protection against imitation and misuse.

3        Next Steps

This was a positive two day visit where we all further enhanced our passion for the agricultural industry. The visits gave us the confidence to invest in our businesses and in the quality of both livestock and land as there is a sustainable market for our products. These were perfect examples of productive farms and clearly showed that the greater the inputs, the higher the rewards.

Following the visit, members will prepare a brief report for other members to benefit from. The report will contain a brief overview of each enterprise as well as the story and background of how each enterprise is sustainable and successful. Members will also write about what they gained from the visit and present the report along with photographs at the annual AGM, where there will be an opportunity to discuss the visit, our findings and experiences.

We will ask those who attended if they have actioned any of the knowledge learnt during the visit in their own enterprises and businesses. This will form part of a larger discussion between members during the next meeting. Any members that were unable to attend the visit will be able to ask those who attended about any particular sector they wish to gain more knowledge and understanding of.

The report will also be published online for the general public to view.