27 February 2024


Farming Connect’s training and development opportunities have helped Ernie Richards learn about best practice in agriculture and the latest thinking on technical and business management ideas, giving the young farmer the confidence and knowledge to take on a bigger role in his employer’s upland sheep farming enterprise.

Ernie manages a flock of pedigree Lleyn ewes for Stuart and Helen Morris at 350-acre Wernoog, near Clyro, Powys.

His understanding of flock health and performance and the farm’s environmental obligations has been augmented by multiple Farming Connect accredited learning courses and wider activities, including discussion group membership.

Ernie claims that continuous professional development and learning to do everything well has benefitted both him and the Morris family.

As his knowledge and confidence have grown, the couple have been able to take a step back, moving off the farm to allow Ernie and his family to move into the farmhouse to put him at the centre of the day-to-day management of the enterprise.

As he steps up into that role, he will draw on the Farming Connect Leading and Managing training course he completed in 2023.

“We will have two students with us for up to six weeks during lambing and for the first time it will be me who will be responsible for managing them,’’ he explains.

“I learned so much on the Farming Connect Leading and Managing training course that will help with that.’’

The flock they will be lambing is a closed flock of 1,000 pedigree Lleyns.

Reliance on wormers in the high health status flock has been reduced thanks to faecal egg counting (FEC). To further his knowledge on this, Ernie has completed a Farming Connect Introduction to Worm Control and Faecal Egg Counting for Sheep Producers course.

“We know we have resistance to certain drenches, using FEC means we now only treat when the lambs need it,’’ he explains.

There is a strict culling policy for ewes that experience problems at lambing, those with poor udders or persistent lameness.

Maximising the value of those cull ewes is an important income stream for the business and this is again where Ernie’s utilisation of Farming Connect services has helped. The subject was a theme at one of the meetings for the Farming Connect discussion group he is a member of, covering topics such as selling at the right time.

Membership of that discussion group allows Ernie to share ideas, problems and solutions with other like-minded farmers, and benefit from the technical expertise of speakers such as Phillipa Page, of Flock Health Ltd.

“We are all focussed on the same sort of things, we are very open with each other and keep in touch between meetings via a Whatsapp group,’’ he explains. 

“We now have some funding to look at iceberg diseases and to blood sample our flocks for those.’’

Similarly, Erine was fortunate to be selected for the Agri Academy in 2021 and will be reaping the benefits of the invaluable support network and friendships forged through the Academy for many years to come. 

As the Water Resources (Control of Agricultural Pollution) (Wales) Regulations are rolled out across Wales, Ernie has also been making use of Farming Connect services to understand what that means for the business at Wernoog.

Last year he completed a training course on environmental awareness, audit and management of farm businesses.

“This focussed on the new rules and it helped me get my head around what we needed to do to be compliant with those,’’ says Ernie.

A record of the certificates he has gained and courses completed are all stored on Storfa Sgiliau, Farming Connect’s online data storage tool.

“Although I have paper copies of the certificates too, it is really useful to have everything stored online and in one easily accessible place, through my BOSS (Business Online Support Service) account,’’ says Ernie. You can also download a complete report of all your records, all in a single document.

He says he is fortunate that Stuart and Helen recognise the value of ongoing training and development.

“They have allowed me time away from the farm to do these things and I am grateful for that.

“I am trying to move forward all the time, trying to understand as much as I can about farming, and they recognise that this will help them too.’’

Looking to the future, Ernie, a member of the NFU Cymru Next Generation Group, sees good opportunities for the next generation of farmers.

“New entrants are the lifeblood of any vibrant industry, and farming is no exception,’’ he says.

“It can be a difficult sector to get a foothold in for young people with no background in agriculture but going forward I think we will see many more different ways to help make that happen.’’

Keep up to date with the latest Farming Connect has to offer you and your business by visiting our website, social media channels or by speaking to your local Development Officer. The Agri Academy application window is open NOW and will close on 15 April 2024. 

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