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Pembrokeshire beef farmers stress importance of flexibility in agri-policies

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A Pembrokeshire beef farmer has highlighted the need for future agricultural policies to be as flexible as possible to allow the industry to thrive in difficult circumstances.

Opening the gates to the family farm Coland Rise Farm, Hayscastle, Haverfordwest, Nathan Rogers and his parents Andrew and Patricia Rogers, discussed the most critical farming matters facing the industry with local Member of the Senedd, Paul Davies MS.

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The family runs a 90 cow suckler herd of pedigree Salers and followers on a grass based system. The farm includes 170 acres which are all family owned. Andrew and Patricia Rogers own half of the land with their son Nathan renting the other half from his grandparents.

In addition to the farm, the family also run Coland Rise Farm Meats, which was established by Patricia and Andrew and allows them to supply their own grass fed beef direct to consumers. The animals are slaughtered at the abattoir in Haverfordwest and carcasses are hung for around 3 weeks in their own cold store before being butchered to their own specifications.

Around 40 cows calve in the autumn each year with the remainder calving from January through to March.

“ It is very rare for any assistance to be provided during calvings as the Salers breed is very maternal and they give plenty of milk. We try to calve before the stock goes out in the spring for ease of management and aim to eventually have no cows calving in March,” explained Nathan Rogers as he showed Paul Davies and Farmers’ Union of Wales officials around the farm business.

He further explained that because the farmland is a clay/peat soil, they generally work on the basis that the stock will be in for six months of the year.

“We want to prevent damaging the soil structure so we can’t turn out the stock too early in the Spring and can’t leave them out too late in the Autumn,” said Nathan Rogers.

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Mr Rogers also highlighted that the farm business has received funding from the Sustainable Production Grant to put in a new above ground slurry store and from the Farm Business Grant Yard Covering Scheme to undertake work to help them comply with the new Water Resources Regulation. Explaining how they have made further efficiencies on the farm, he added:

“Our cows were originally loose housed but we have now installed cubicles with mats. This has reduced our straw usage from over 100 tonnes a year to just 30 tonnes a year.”

Visitors to the farm further heard that the new slurry store holds 257,000 gallons and provides the farm business with enough storage for six months.

Slurry storage at Coland Rise Farm

“It cost around £70,000 including all the groundworks and associated equipment. Without receiving 40 percent towards the cost it would have been a struggle for us to put everything in place without having to reduce stock numbers to help fund it and then build back up,” added Mr Rogers.

Thinking ahead the family have also ensured that the slurry store has been built in such a way that an additional ring can be added to it in the future to provide additional storage capacity should it be required.

“We have only used it for one winter so far but have already seen the benefits of being able to use the slurry at the most appropriate time. Our first cut of silage of around 70 acres, has historically required 110kgs of artificial N/ha but in 2022 we used just 70kg of artificial N/ha, with similar reductions in usage of artificial fertiliser being used for second cut silage.

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“We hope that over a period of time the investment will definitely pay for itself but it is vital that the Welsh Government is as flexible as possible in its future policies and that the concerns of the industry are taken on board. These are difficult times for everyone and I strongly believe that farming can play a huge part in making sure that food security is upheld and that the environment is looked after,” said Mr Rogers.

FUW Rebecca Voyle

Addressing the new Water Resources Regulations FUW Pembrokeshire County Executive officer Rebecca Voyle said: “The FUW is renewing its calls on the Welsh Government to consider the financial, social, cultural and environmental impacts of these regulations on Wales’ family farms and rural areas.

“The need to address water pollution has been a significant priority for the FUW for decades, as evidenced by the Union’s work with bodies such as the now disbanded Environment Agency and the Wales Land Management Forum sub-group.

“The Welsh Government’s Regulatory Impact Assessment (RIA) states that the regulations will cost Welsh farmers as much as £360 million in infrastructure costs alone – with annual compliance costs on top of this figure.”

Mr Davies further heard that the Farm Business Grant Yard Coverings scheme helped the family cover open areas of yards used to feed cattle during the winter. However, between receiving the initial quote for the new roofs at the point of applying for the grant to being given the go ahead, the cost had risen by at least £3,000, due to the increasing costs of materials.

Mrs Voyle added: “We must also consider that current inflation rates stand at 25 percent for construction materials, which equates to a potential cost of £450 million for Welsh farmers. That is £120 million more than Wales’ average annual Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) budget over the 2014-2020 CAP funding period.”

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Addressing the increase in costs, Mr Rogers highlighted concerns about the farm businesses’ energy costs.

“Whilst the farm itself does not use a huge amount of electricity the butchery side of the business does use a fair amount. We are concerned about what will happen when our current contract needs to be renewed. This could have a significant impact on our running costs and therefore the price to our customers,” said Nathan Rogers.

Union officials also took the opportunity to discuss the Sustainable Farming Scheme, highlighting the importance of making sure that it was flexible enough to ensure that it delivers for the industry rather than constraining it.

FUW Ian Rickman

Addressing the Sustainable Farming Scheme proposals, FUW Deputy President Ian Rickman who joined the farm tour said: “We have welcomed the Welsh Government’s commitment to a baseline payment for all farmers, providing much needed stability for food producing family farms such as Coland Rise Farm here in Pembrokeshire.

“We have been clear that the majority of the budget should be used to provide this stability payment in return for the new Universal Actions required of farmers on top of the ‘National Minimum Standards’.

“There are also still concerns about the impact of budget cuts from Westminster and the size of the budget after 2023, particularly as the proposals are ambitious, covering a wide range of objectives at a time when farmers are experiencing a significant increase in costs.”

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Union officials added that the proposal to use RPW Online as the main tool for farmers themselves to undertake a simplified Sustainability Review is welcome, as it recognises the value of existing data collection by farmers, the capability and user-friendliness of the current system, and the expense of using advisors to conduct the review on farm as was previously proposed.

“However, it is highly disappointing that the outcomes required of the scheme – based around the principles of Sustainable Land Management such as Clean air, Resilient ecosystems and Enhanced Access – still do not incorporate the economic sustainability of family farms, agricultural supply chains, rural communities or food production explicitly.

“Without such objectives being central to the scheme there is a risk of economic damage, particularly if the calculation of baseline payment rates doesn’t take such economic support into account,” added FUW Pembrokeshire County Executive officer Rebecca Voyle.

(All images: FUW)

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