Arfon AM Sian Gwenllian was reminded by Farmers’ Union of Wales (FUW) members of the importance of the connection between agri-environment schemes and light lamb production on the mountains during a farm visit hosted by FUW members Arwel and Sioned Jones.
The visit was held on Friday, February 3 at Talymignedd Isaf, Nantlle, a business run by Arwel and Sioned Jones along with Arwel’s father Hugh Jones.
Speaking about the future of the light lamb market, Arwel Jones voiced his concern about the threat to exports following Brexit, and the knock-on effect that that could have on the management options within his Glastir contract.
“Why would we want to keep livestock if there is no market for them, and that’s all you can keep on these mountains. Losing the European market could be disastrous for us and could lead to a mass exodus of sheep from Wales’ highest peaks. How then will we be able to control vegetation on the mountains in order to satisfy the management options under our Glastir agreements?
“During 2016 we saw the prices received by farmers for light lambs plummet for all kinds of reasons, so what future is there for them if this trend continues? Figures show we received around 60% of the prices we had in 2011 during last year, how can we survive with an even smaller market for our produce in future?” said Mr Jones.
Local business representatives also showed their support for the industry, emphasising the numbers not directly involved in farming but who nevertheless depend on the industry.
“Many rural businesses rely on the agricultural industry for income, including agricultural suppliers, contractors, mechanics and retailers.
“Under the current financial climate the future of such businesses would be jeopardised if the European market is lost to us here in Wales,” added Mr Jones.
The FUW stressed that politicians on a local, Assembly and Westminster level need to be aware of the complexity of agricultural supply chains and the wide network of businesses which depends on the farming industry.
Sian Gwenllian voiced her support, stating: “It’s imperative that an appropriate deal is established with Europe in order to ensure a future for the light lamb industry here in Wales, and as a result assist land managers to conform to all requirements of their agri-environment scheme conditions.”
Those present agreed that the devolved regions of the UK should work together to develop a mechanism to prevent distortion between agricultural producers in different regions, thus allowing the Welsh Government to fine tune policies in order to cater for Wales’ specific needs.
Talymignedd Isaf runs to 1,500 acres in the Nantlle valley, with 100 acres of it being lowland. A further 200 acres are farmed in the area both rented and owned which helps ensure a sufficient supply of winter fodder. Arwel and Sioned Jones run the farm in partnership with Hugh Jones, and have 4 children, the eldest being Elin who is a lecturer at Glynllifon, Tomos who attends the local agricultural college as a student, and Ffion and Robert who are still at school.
A herd of 50 Pedigree Welsh Black Suckler Cows are kept along with 9 followers with most being put to a Welsh Black bull and the rest to a Charolais. All stores are sold between 16 and 18 months old, the Welsh Blacks at Dolgellau and the Charolais crosses at Bryncir. The herd is a closed one in order to maintain a high level of bio-security.
1,200 breeding ewes are kept, 950 of them being Welsh Mountain ewes and the remainder XCheviots. 800 of the Welsh ewes are put to a Welsh Mountain ram whilst the rest are given a Texel or a Cheviot ram. 250 Welsh Mountain ewe lambs are kept as followers and also 50 XCheviot ewe lambs. All the other lambs are sold fat off the farm to Dunbia via local agent Dafydd Wyn.
20 years ago the farm was selling all lambs as stores but since then have been feeding them concentrates in order to fatten them on the farm before selling direct to slaughter.
A high lambing percentage is not always the best thing for a mountain farm explained Mr Jones. Twins are unsuitable as they wouldn’t be turned back onto the mountain with their mothers as the grass wouldn’t be of a high enough quality for the ewes to produce enough milk to rear their offspring well enough on the mountain tops.
Since 2000 the farm has been under an agri-environment scheme, firstly under Tir Gofal for which Arwel and Sioned won prizes in 2004, and from 2014 under a Glastir agreement.
FUW Caernarfonshire County Chairman Tudur Parry added: “The biggest concerns for the future are the continued increase in production costs and obviously the threat that Brexit brings, and the potential trade deal with New Zealand and other countries which are major agricultural exporters.
“If businesses like Talymignedd won’t succeed who will? What is the future for such a family farm producing livestock to the highest standards when there is a real risk of competition from inferior produce from countries who haven’t got half the regulations that we have to adhere to.
“Livestock welfare standards are also compromised with us here in Wales having to bear additional costs compared to producers from overseas. The knock-on effect on the rural economy could be disastrous both from the retailers point of view and local contractors who have benefited from almost 30 years of agri-environment schemes on this farm and also from capital grant schemes run by Snowdonia National Park Authority.”
The picture shows (l-r) FUW Caernarfonshire County Executive Officer Gwynedd Watkin, FUW Caernarfonshire County Chairman Tudur Parry, Sioned Jones, Sian Gwenllian AM, Arwel Jones, Robat and Tomos Jones and Hugh Jones