21 June 2021
Pembrokeshire-born Emma Roberts had a part-time job she loved at a busy GP surgery in Whitland. Therefore, why did qualified nurse Emma, who has been at the front-line of the profession for more than 30 years, decide to give up her career and independence to become a 24/7, ‘out in all weathers’ farmer, at the family dairy farm in Clynderwen? And has it all worked out?
When Emma’s late dad lost his health a few years ago, Emma took a career break to care for him, which meant she was also spending a lot more time helping out at the farm.
“I soon realised that there was more than enough work for me at home. There was clearly a role I could build and make my own.
“I felt I had many transferable skills that could help develop the business across a number of areas, especially the calf-rearing side of things, which I found especially rewarding, probably because of my ‘nurturing and caring’ nursing background.
“Having made the decision to join my husband Philip, his dad Dilwyn, who despite being 81 still contributes hugely, and our son Jonathan (27), who has been working on the farm full-time since leaving school, I feel I made the right choice and have steadily built up my involvement in those areas where I am helping make a difference,” says Emma.
Although an outbreak of Bovine TB and the pandemic have both impacted on the family hugely, with daughter Mari (23) having to complete the final year of her events management degree course from home rather than enjoying student life in Gloucester and Jonathan having to curtail his usual social life, the whole family say that having mum on board has been a huge success!
Like many women in farming and thanks to accessing support from Farming Connect, Emma very quickly became the driving force for change. The whole family, and the two part-time relief milking workers, all acknowledge that Emma has provided an inspirational ‘fresh pair of eyes’.
Armed with her newly-acquired skills and learning, Emma has encouraged them all to make what she describes as ‘sometimes very minor system changes or tweaks’ which are not only helping to modernise the business, but preparing it for the future too.
“Women are sometimes in a good position to stand back from the manual day to day routines, giving them time to focus on areas that could be improved or done more efficiently.”
Determined to learn all she could about the livestock, land and the business management side in the quickest time she could, Emma contacted her local Farming Connect development officer, Rhiannon James.
“I wanted to know if there was anything we could be doing to make the farm more efficient, more sustainable and more profitable.
“I had helped out on the farm at busy times and always looked after my own horses but I knew I had a steep learning curve ahead of me if I was to make any serious contribution to the business.
“At my very first meeting with Rhiannon she explained that there was a very wide range of support services, guidance and training available that we could be taking advantage of.”
By today, Emma has clearly found her farming feet and is focused on setting herself and the business clear objectives, tapping into whatever support she can along the way.
What the Roberts family hadn’t expected is that Emma would sweep up Philip, Jonathan and Mari in her new-found enthusiasm for knowledge and skills. In the last twelve months, the whole family regularly tune in for Farming Connect’s online events and webinars and they’ve all signed up for fully-funded e-learning courses. Between them all, they’ve delved into learning on topics ranging from ICT, business management, finance and VAT returns to soil health, grassland management and digital detector system which sends them text alerts when a cow is in labour.
“During lockdown when she pretty much had a captive audience, if there was a Farming Connect online event or some training we’re interested in, Emma could usually persuade us all to switch off the television and take part,” says Philip.
Just like Emma, Philip, Jonathan and Mari are now totally on board with the learning, knowledge and continuing professional development which is steadily helping them improve efficiency across all areas of the business.
Brynaeron is a 360 acre farm, running a herd of 200 Holstein crossed with Norwegian Red cows. Philip, Jonathan and the two relief workers manage the twice-daily milking routine, with each cow yielding around 9,000 litres per annum sold on contract annually to First Milk. The farm is also part of the Tesco Cheese Group.
“I wanted to learn everything I could about calf-rearing and found that e-learning, which you can do in your own time, is a brilliant way of getting up to speed on topics such as the importance of colostrum; calf scouring; Johne’s disease and much more,” says Emma.
“I now know what it takes to give our calves the best possible start in life and I’m doing everything I can to ensure they’ve got maximum immunity against infection which is already leading to good outcomes and even better returns!”
The family have seen a reduction in lameness following a Farming Connect veterinary-run ‘cow lameness’ workshop they hosted at the farm and Jonathan has recently applied for a subsidised Farming Connect foot-trimming training course.
An advocate of benchmarking and making sure every area of the business is performing at its best, Emma says many kitchen table conversations involve the whole family talking about what has been done well, what’s not going so well and if there are any areas where they might need advice or new skills to increase efficiency or productivity.
Mari’s Covid-enforced year on the farm gave her time to gain her BA, but until the events scene picks up or she spots ‘the perfect job,’ she’s thrown herself into learning all she can about grassland management. Mari has joined Farming Connect’s ‘Prosper from Pasture’ programme to boost her knowledge and confidence and is working towards the intermediate level.
“I’m aiming to maximise the herd’s performance from grass, I want to increase our forage yield and I’m now responsible for the farm’s rotational grazing strategy,” says Mari.
Perhaps the most fundamental changes will come about thanks to the family applying for the Farming Connect Advisory Service. Armed with guidance from Keith Owen of Kebek, one of Farming Connect’s approved infrastructure specialists, together with a business plan and technical advice provided by John Crimes of approved rural consultancy CARA Wales, the family successfully applied for a Welsh Government Sustainable Business Grant (SPG). Once all the necessary planning approvals are in place, builders will start covering an existing feed yard.
“Separating clean and dirty water efficiently will be hugely beneficial.
“We’re also making great progress with various technical issues identified through the Advisory Service, including livestock management, performance and productivity,” says Emma.
Farming Connect, which is delivered by Menter a Busnes and Lantra, has received funding through the Welsh Government Rural Communities - Rural Development Programme 2014-2020, which is funded by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development and the Welsh Government.