27 November 2023
A young sheep farmer’s vision for a newly acquired farm, to create the canine equivalent of a day care centre, has earned her a Farming Connect Agri Academy award at the 2023 Royal Welsh Winter Fair.
Erin McNaught and her fellow 2023 Farming Connect Agri Academy Business & Innovation Programme members had been set a challenge to produce a business plan for a holding acquired by Leicestershire arable farmer, Will Oliver, who they had visited earlier in the year.
Their business plans for Osbaston House Farm were based on original research and included recommendations for how Will could generate additional income from his acquisition.
During a residential study weekend at Wholehouse Farm, Talgarth, the Agri Academy presented their Farm Challenge Award plans to a panel of judges, chaired by Euryn Jones, chair of the Farming Connect Programme Board, and including Will and former Agri Academy members, Kayleigh Rees-Jones, who owns Wholehouse Farm, and Laura Lewis from Squirrels Nest.
Euryn said the standard of business plans was extremely high but it was Erin’s that stood out. “She rose to the top of a very strong field of candidates,’’ he said.
In her carefully thought through business proposal, Erin calculated a set up cost of £18,745.
As an experienced competitor in sheep dog trials, she saw the potential from establishing a kennel – a ‘day care nursery for dogs’ – to meet a need created by the large numbers of people who became dog owners during the pandemic.
Her vision also included overnight accommodation provision, and a dog exercise area, with additional income generated from dog training clinics, training for working dogs, and even photoshoots for dogs.
“It was a very clever combination of identifying a market need and, coupled with Erin’s own skillset, coming up with an impressive and innovative business plan,’’ said Euryn.
Erin has farmed at Rhos-y-gwaliau, Gwynedd, since she was offered the chance to run her family’s farm at the age of just 18, a big leap for a young woman who had just achieved an impressive set of A levels and with university beckoning.
But such was the draw of Pandy Farm that she seized that opportunity and two years on her grandfather, her ‘Taid’, made her a partner in the business.
Expanding sheep numbers from 20 to 400 was her first step, and she later replaced the suckler herd with a dairy-to-beef calf rearing enterprise.
She hasn’t abandoned her academic studies as she is currently studying for a degree in geography and environmental sciences too.
Erin was presented with her award at a special ceremony at the Royal Welsh Winter Fair in Llanelwedd on Monday 27 November.
Each member was presented with a certificate to mark their successful completion of the Agri Academy programme.
During their time on the course, they had been put through their paces in a demanding and stimulating programme of visits, workshops and presentations in a variety of locations, including an overseas visit to Ontario, Canada.
Euryn said their performance in the farm challenge had been a strong demonstration of their talent and resourcefulness and their inspiring passion for engendering resilience and prosperity for farming in the future.
The judging panel had been “extremely impressed’’ by the professionalism and creative approach demonstrated in the presentations.
“Plans put forward for the Challenge Farm were innovative and progressive, with careful assessment made of the land and building resources available and how they could best be utilised to enhance the business and serve the potentially lucrative markets of a populous area in the East Midlands.
“We were particularly pleased to see the diligent approach taken to understating customer characteristics and assessing demand for product and services, coupled with prudent financial planning and investment appraisal, and effective promotion of new ventures.’’
The application window for the 2024 Agri Academy opens in February.