Nestled just outside of the small Pembrokeshire village of Puncheston, near Haverfordwest, is Fagwrfran East farm, home to the Williams family, and 150 dairy cows.
Here Michael Williams farms with his parents Gareth and Annette, producing milk for cheese on a First Milk contract. When the family bought the farm in 1981, it was derelict and hadn't been farmed for a few years. It had been mainly a beef and sheep farm but as Gareth and Annette had both come from dairy farms, and dairy was their passion, it was converted to a dairy farm.
Gareth and Annette started milking with a few cows in a second hand 8 abreast parlour. They progressively built the dairy herd up and whilst Michael studied for his A levels they installed a 10/20 swing over herringbone style parlour.
Michael returned home to the farm in 2006 after completing a Master degree in Exploration Geology at Cardiff University and after a few years became a partner with his parents in the business.
The farm continued to grow with investment in buildings, silage pits, slurry storage and lately the Robotic Dairy. Since January 2017 the herd has been milked by DeLaval VMS robots with a third robot installed in the summer of 2018.
Taking a group of young farmers for a tour of the farm, as part of the FUW Academi organised by the Union’s Pembrokeshire branch, Michael explains some of the benefits of doing things differently.
The implications of a ‘hard Brexit’ and fear of losing free access to the EU’s Single Market, as well as the pivotal role farming families play in keeping the Welsh economy going, were highlighted by the Langford family from Tredegar in a meeting with local AM and former Welsh Agricultural Minister, Alun Davies.
Wayne, his wife Tracy and daughter Emily, farm at Penrhyn Farm, Nantybwch, Tredegar, which is situated 1,100 feet above sea level at the head of the Sirhowy valley.
The typical family farm extends to 140 acres, half-owned, half tenanted, plus hill rights on the Llangynidr Common and is home to 300 Talybont type Welsh Mountain ewes plus followers, which are kept together with 20 Galloway cross Angus Suckler cows.
Wayne regards the Brexit negotiations pivotal to the future of Welsh Hill farms and was keen to highlight the vital role farmers play in preserving the rural economy.
Speaking on farm, he said: “Farming matters in so many ways that are seldom realised. Not only do farms produce food but they are also the cornerstone of our rural economies. Family farms, in particular, are at the heart of our rural economy, caring for our landscape, and of course our culture.
“They make innumerable other contributions to the well-being of Wales and the UK. Central to such benefits is the production of food and the improvement in domestic food security.
“All those businesses who supply essential services, materials, and machinery to farmers, through to the farmers themselves and their products, to the processors who turn them into food, and the consumers themselves, have a critical part to play in our rural economy. And that is at stake if we get Brexit wrong.”
If current Welsh Government proposals go ahead, from January 1 2020 all registered holdings across Wales, regardless of size, will have to comply with new land management regulations aimed at improving water quality. To all intents and purposes, the proposals mirror the regulations which apply in Wales’ Nitrate Vulnerable Zones, which currently cover just 2.3 per cent of Wales’ landmass.
While this alone will fill most FUW members with dread, in reality, the full implications and complexity of what is planned can only be understood by considering the full proposals - proposals that the FUW is committed to fight.
Agricultural pollution is a concern for every farmer: A single pollution incident can cause huge harm to wildlife and the environment, while the steady, periodic or combined leaching of pollutants can lead to damaging concentrations of nitrates or other chemicals, resulting in problems such as algal blooms and the contamination of water supplies.
And of course, pollution brings with it financial costs for farm businesses - whether directly, as a result of fines; or a result of the loss of valuable nutrients from soils and other adverse impacts.
Thankfully, the data available for agricultural pollution incidents from January 2010 to February 2018 shows only 1 per cent of farms in Wales to have been recorded as having a substantiated pollution incident, but some of those that have been attributed to farming were catastrophic, adding to existing pressures from members of the public, charities and other bodies to tighten up farming regulations.
Such pressures, which have been exacerbated by unusually wet periods in recent years, come against a background of legislative pressure due to Nitrate Vulnerable Zone and Water Framework Directive legislation. For these reasons, the FUW has worked with others for decades to help address agricultural pollution in a proportionate and targeted way.
In recent years, a large proportion of this work has been through the FUW’s membership of the Welsh Land Management Forum (WLMF), chaired by Natural Resources Wales, and in particular the WLMF agricultural pollution sub-group, which has met monthly over the past two years.
Following a consultation on the expansion of Wales’ Nitrate Vulnerable Zones and a request from Cabinet Secretary Lesley Griffiths, in April 2018 the group submitted a detailed report and 45 recommendations to the Cabinet Secretary.
Farmers from the Vale of Glamorgan came together to quiz the general election hopefuls in an agricultural husting event, which was held at the Bear Hotel in Cowbridge.
The well-attended event, which was hosted in partnership with NFU Cymru, heard from Alun Cairns (Conservative), Belinda Loveluck-Edwards (Labour) and Anthony Slaughter (Green Party), as the candidates outlined their party policies before the floor was opened to questions from the audience.
FUW Glamorgan chairman Richard Walker said: “I would like to thank the candidates who joined us on the night for their contributions and the thought-provoking conversations.
“It was by no means a single subject discussion and our farming members engaged with the candidates about some of the more local issues that affect their livelihood and community.
The Farmers’ Union of Wales has welcomed today’s (Monday, November 25) announcement by Cabinet Secretary for Energy, Planning and Rural Affairs Lesley Griffiths that 75% of farmers (almost 12,000) will receive their full BPS 2019 payment on day one of the payment window, while businesses that do not receive their full payment, and have applied for the BPS Support scheme, will receive up to 90% of their BPS 2019 claim value.
Speaking at the Royal Welsh Winter Fair, FUW President Glyn Roberts said: “We understand the Welsh Government has been under pressure due to preparations for Brexit and therefore welcome the fact that despite the challenges 75% of farmers will receive their BPS payment.
“The Minister’s decision to once again implement a loan scheme this year was also very welcome, and we have encouraged all our members to apply, and helped many thousands to do just that.
“I would also urge those farmers who have not applied for the BPS loan yet, to do so before the November 29 deadline,” he added.
Those who have applied for the BPS loan, worth around 90% of their estimated 2019 BPS payment, can expect their money to be with them from 9 December.
The Farmers’ Union of Wales has today (Monday, 25 November 2019) launched its General Election manifesto, outlining what it considers the priorities for the next UK Government should be in terms of agriculture.
Speaking at the Royal Welsh Winter Fair, FUW President Glyn Roberts said: “Brexit has split Parliament, political parties and the nation, leading to fifty ministerial resignations, expulsions from and defections between parties and the defeat of the UK Government in a series of court cases both in England and Scotland.
“Whilst some have sought to paint Brexit as a simple process, and those who oppose implementing it rapidly as failing to respect the outcome of the referendum, the events since the May 2017 election have confirmed the FUW’s view, made clear the day after the EU Referendum, that Brexit should take place over a safe and realistic timescale.