Farming Connect Study Visit - Rhiwhiriaeth Training Group, Llanfair Caereinion

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.

Rhiwhiriaeth Training Group, Llanfair Caereinion


12th December 2016

1      Background

The group has been established for over 40 years with the initial purpose of training farmers and recently as a knowledge transfer platform for local farming families. The main aim of the visit was to look at new ideas and new income streams to enable the successful succession of group member’s farms to the next generation. Most group members are at the stage where they are looking at handing over the management of their farms to their children and want to increase the family farm income by adding value to primary produce and diversifying their businesses to generate enough income to maintain the older and newer generation.

Also as a consequence of Brexit the group felt that it was important to try and look at ideas to generate more income streams rather than depending solely on beef and sheep production and therefore wanted to look at other possible income streams to maintain the viability of the family farm.

The objective of the visit was to fact find in a different part of the country where family farms have evolved into successful tourism businesses and have been able to add value to primary produce and provide income for more than one generation on the same holding.


2      Itinerary

2.1        Day 1

Travelling and visiting Ley Cross Farm, a dairy farm that has successfully added value to primary produce by processing their own milk to produce cheese as well as producing beef for the farm shop and growing cereals to cut down input costs. The group heard about the business and how it has developed over the years to keep five partners within the same enterprise. The farm was established in 1952 by John Alvis and now has a contracting business, cheese making business and a farm shop, all as separate enterprises. 2250 acres of grass is grown and 1750 acres of arable. All the home produced milk goes into cheese production and 27 other local farms supply them with milk. 1000 beef cattle are also kept with all the dairy bulls fattened. 6000 pigs are kept on contract and fed from the whey and cheese waste. After the talk the group visited the cheese processing unit and packaging facilities. They learnt that the most profitable cheeses are ones sold for airline company catering – the smaller the piece of cheese the more it is worth. The farm now exports cheese to 40 countries and sells to all main UK supermarkets as supermarket own brand cheese. A lot was learnt about packaging, marketing and adding value. Biomass chips from their own forestry are used to heat all their own water at 240kW an hour.

Key learning outcomes were:

To try and decrease input costs by growing your own feeds and/or utilising woodlands on farm to produce energy
Adding value to produce by thinking outside the box i.e. selling small chunks of cheese at a premium
To think of the farm as a business and not as a family enterprise – at Ley Cross Farm the contracting business charges the dairy enterprise for any work done on the farm

2.2        Day 2

Visiting orchards and an agri-environment scheme and farm shop, as well as looking at how to add value to by-products by producing animal feeds. The Thatcher’s business has 10-15 miles of apples with 30,000 tonnes harvested each autumn and has been making cider for over 100 years. The business started in 1904 and has grown to now employ 120 staff, with the fourth generation of the family now involved in the business. To add value to their processing facility the business is now crushing blackcurrants for Ribena from June to July. 42% of the cider is sold to supermarkets, 56% to breweries and 2% as export.

 Over the years they have changed their marketing and are now focusing on a new younger market. To this end they are in the process of building a new canning facility so that cider can be sold in cans. The business isn’t afraid of change and is always looking at new markets and at growing further. In 1994 the family got rid of their pigs to make room for more orchards and instead of feeding apple by-products to pigs they’re now using the by-product as cattle feed.

In 2010 the business purchased another 120 acres for extra orchards and have since then opened a farm shop and their own pub and restaurant.

Key learning outcomes were:

Not to be afraid to try new things
To focus on the enterprise that pays and not to keep livestock because that’s what you’ve always done
Even in a successful business plan ahead and think of new opportunities and markets

3         Next Steps

The next steps for the group following the visit are:

To share the information and knowledge gained with the other group members
To look more carefully at succession and succession planning
Some group members have mentioned the idea of setting up a farm shop locally to add value to Welsh meat.