In a bid to highlight just how much #FarmingMatters to the wider rural economy, the Farmers’ Union of Wales, alongside local businesses, met the Welsh Government Climate Change, Environment and Rural Affairs Committee at a Ceredigion farm, just outside of New Quay.
Putting the spotlight firmly on the wider rural economy and to showcase some of the struggles farmers face, FUW Ceredigion County Chairman Anwen Hughes opened the gates to her home farm Bryngido.
Here Anwen Hughes farms around 138 acres, of which 99 acres are owned, 22.5 acres are on a lifetime farm tenancy and a further 17 acres are rented.
She keeps 100 pedigree Llyn sheep, 30 purebred Highland sheep and 300 cross bred Llyn and Highland ewes and has been farming since 1995.
Last year the farm business contributed over £30,000 to the local economy helping to sustain feed merchants, vets and contractors who work in Ceredigion.
Opening the visit was FUW President Glyn Roberts, who said: “When we look at our Welsh countryside and speak to the myriad of people up and down the country, everyone will say that their area is the most beautiful, and that’s because beauty is in the eye of the beholder. All of us will say so, not only in terms of the landscape, the sights, sounds and tranquillity, but also the culture of the people, which in places is deep-rooted in farming and all the industries which surround it.
“With that in mind of course, what we are talking about extends far beyond these romantic ideas; agriculture in communities is not only a backbone for the Welsh language – sometimes, sadly, a last haven – but also provides employment for a vast number of people, both directly, and through services provided by a host of businesses.
“And of course, farmers provide the one commodity besides water that people must have to live – namely food. In Wales and the UK, we are blessed with the products of remarkably successful policies aimed at producing constant supplies of cheap food.”
Mr Roberts added that we have been spoiled by those supplies, to the extent that we now take food for granted, something most of the world’s population do not have the luxury of doing, with some even suggesting that we should rely more on other countries for this most essential commodity.
The Union President highlighted that our ecosystems exist not despite farming, but because of farming, and while many mistakes have been made over the years, and some continue to be made, anything that threatens the viability of agriculture also threatens our ecosystems, our economy, and the beauty which attracts so many visitors to Wales each year.
Committee delegates then heard about some of the struggles Anwen Hughes faces in the current climate, as she said: “I would love for my husband and son to work with me on the farm but there is just not enough money coming in from the farm business to sustain all the wages. Last year was a challenging year for us. I would also love to add a herd of cattle as a second line of income to the farm, but there is so much red tape and bureaucracy around, not to mention the threat of bovine TB, that it would be of no financial benefit to our business. It is also very expensive to start such a venture up, and the business doesn’t generate that spare cash to invest, which is very frustrating. ”
Following an introduction to the farm business and a tour of the farm, Committee delegates had the opportunity to speak to more than 20 businesses who were represented on the day, including Accountant Sarah Lloyd, Barclays Bank, Mole Valley, Dunbia, Sainsburys, Awesome Pork Butchers & farm Shop, Nigel Howells Grassland Consultant, Evans Brothers Llanrhystud, Agri Advisor, Morgan & Davies auctioneers, feed merchant Dafydd WD Lewis, Gwilli Jones Lampeter, FUW Insurance Services, Kiwi Kit, Geraint Jones 4×4 Carmarthen, Lloyds Bank, Agrii and Dyfed Telecom.
Mark Thomas who represented Agrii, a national business providing agronomy advice, precision farming services and supplying crop protection, seed and fertiliser inputs to farmers across the UK, told us why farming matters to them, saying that: “We employ around 800 people across the UK and around 50 of those are actively involved in Welsh arable farming. Farming matters to me because we have 800 families and mortgages in our organisation that are dependent on the success of agriculture in Britain, but also farming forms an important part in the local environment, which keeps communities together.”
Representing the agricultural section of Lloyds bank was Wyn Hinds, who said: “Farming Matters to us because we aim to have Britain succeed and agriculture is a core part of our businesses. We are here for the long haul and we want to see agriculture surviving, thriving and being a sustainable industry in this country for many years to come.”
Rhian Rees from Y Sied Gêc, a merchant’s yard selling animal feeds, pet & equine supplies, added that: “The business was started 2 years ago to supply feed etc to local farmers and smallholders from the Siêd in Llwyncelyn, Aberaeron.
“Although I only employ casual staff at the premises, the business supports many staff indirectly, as in staff producing pet and animal feeds, office staff for administration work and drivers of local haulage companies who deliver the feed.
“Being in a very rural area, our business is entirely reliant on the Agriculture sector, and it is so important that the industry is strong, not only for the future of the family farm but for all businesses in a rural area. The hardship that the agriculture economy is facing at the moment is affecting everyone!”
The Reverend Canon Eileen Davies, who is the Rural Affairs Advisor for the Church in Wales in the diocese of St David’s and who is no stranger to running a farm herself, said: “I well and truly realise what agriculture means for the whole of the rural economy. I compare agriculture to a huge oak because there are so many branches that actually depend on agriculture. It is also vital for the wellbeing of our rural areas in ensuring that we are able to keep our young families here in the rural heart of Ceredigion and not lose them to the big cities, because we need that financial impact in our rural areas and that support. Having a rural area that is sustainable is vital for the whole of Wales.”
Dunbia’s chief livestock buyer Wyn Williams, said: “Dunbia employs 4,000 people across the UK and Ireland and approximately 800 are employed in the two sites in Wales based at Llanybydder and Felinfach.
“The importance of the agriculture industry to the UK economy cannot be underestimated. Wales has an agriculture industry which it can be rightly proud of, and which can, and is competing on an international stage. It is important that all stakeholders work together to ensure that we grow and develop a sustainable and profitable industry for all.”
FUW Ceredigion County Executive Officer Mared Rand Jones said: “Family farms in particular are at the heart of our rural economy – as we can see here at Bryngido. Farms like these are caring for our landscape, and of course our culture and they make innumerable other contributions to the well-being of Wales and the UK. The FUW has long maintained that Welsh food production sustains tens of thousands of other businesses – from upstream businesses such as feed merchants, agricultural contractors and engineers, to downstream businesses such as hauliers, processors and retailers and it is evident that for every pound generated on farm, around 6 pounds is spent in the wider economy.”
She added saying: “Look at the Wales wide statistics – we have 14,317 sheep farms, 1,758 dairy farms, 8,613 farms on which non-dairy cattle are kept, and 1,478 pig farms.
“And all those farms, no matter how big or small, were responsible for spending an average of £1.2 billion on products supplied by local secondary and tertiary businesses (2014 figures). We must not forget that Welsh agriculture employs 60,000 people in full time, part time, and seasonal employment.”