Royal Welsh Show,
As the Royal Welsh Agricultural Society’s flagship accolade, the Sir Bryner Jones Memorial Award is hotly contested year after year.
With exceptional entries from 10 counties across Wales, the judges have had a challenging task whittling it down to the four very worthy candidates. Once again, the overall winner of this year’s coveted award will be kept under wraps until the Royal Welsh Show, where the shortlisted contenders and their families will attend the Royal Welsh Agricultural Society award presentations on the first day of the show to hear the winner announced for the first time.
Sir Bryner Jones helped shape the direction of the Royal Welsh Agricultural Society for 50 years, was Agricultural Commissioner for Wales and subsequently became Welsh Secretary of the Ministry of Agriculture. He was President of the Royal Welsh in 1954, the society’s golden jubilee year.
Since 1957 the award has been made annually to someone from a different area of the farming industry who has reached the highest level of achievement in the chosen sector. This year the judges were looking an individual who has created a viable agricultural business through an initial tenancy, farm business tenancy (FBT), share farming or joint equity agreement.
“We thank the 10 exceptional individuals for sharing their farming journey with us.” remarked the judges, Martin Evans ARAgS and Wynne Jones OBE FRAgS.
“The situations of the individual entrants were very diverse, the length of time they had been in their current businesses differed significantly and we needed to balance achievement with potential. A wide range of enterprises were evident.
“As such, whilst finding the task extremely enjoyable and informative we were challenged to select a shortlist such was the genuine quality of the businesses we visited. We warmly congratulate all the applicants for their progress to date and will follow developments with interest.”
In alphabetical order, the four shortlisted candidates are:
Mr Richard Anthony FRAgS & Mrs Lynwen Anthony, Tythesgton, Bridgend
In 1996 Richard became aware that the family business in which he was engaged was not large enough to provide a living for all partners. Taking the initiative, he approached the owners of a large nearby estate to rent only the grassland on an arable farm together with some buildings and small house at Tythegston Farm. Thus in 1997 Richard and his wife Lynwen commenced their own farm business on an initial three year farm business tenancy (FBT) on 110 acres.
Their incoming capital was 250 sheep (their share from the original family farm business) and 12 months later another 100 acres of grassland became available on a similar arrangement. They operated a sheep enterprise, the production of haylage and an agricultural contracting business. They were farming grass breaks on other people’s arable rotation adopting a two-year Italian ryegrass/one-year winter wheat rotation in order to build up soil organic matter content. At this stage the sheep enterprises were up to 600 ewes and they were selling 100,000 bales of silage, haylage and straw.
Richard’s husbandry and technical abilities were recognised by their landlords and in 2002 they entered a contract farming agreement on 570 acres of arable land at Tythegston. In the same year an opportunity arose to take on another estate of 775 acres arable land on a 10 year FBT. The business at the end of 2002 consisted of 1600 acres of land. This increase was a very significant and challenging step on their progress, thus setting their objective in the next few years to consolidate this growth into a sustainable farming and business system. In 2010 an additional 350 acres was secured and in 2013 a further 650 acres was taken on, both on FBTS. This together with further blocks subsequently taken on has resulted in a business currently farming 3000 acres.
The judges were extremely impressed by Richard’s arable husbandry and technical approach. He is committed to good soil management, adopting an innovative six-year crop rotation consisting of oil seed rape, winter wheat, rye westerwolds and maize. The ewes and up to 3000 tack lambs added to fertility and build-up of soil organic matter. This has led to improved soil moisture holding capacity and structure thus making the soil more trafficable enabling reduced tillage operations, labour fuel and power costs. There was much remedial work required both on the soils and the general farm estates.
It is important to highlight that the Anthony’s are very good farmers and have been recognised as such by their peers. Clearly, local landowners have noted their abilities to improve the land, adopt improved agri-environment opportunities and renovate the physical structures on the land tenanted. Landlords searched them out wishing to avail themselves of their farming expertise and capabilities. Noteworthy has been the willingness of the landlords to extend the terms of the FBTS – clearly a form of earned recognition.
The farm hosts the NIAB wheat and barley variety trial plots and oilseed rape and wheat plots for the commercial company Agrii. This means that Richard is able to observe at first hand the promising new varieties and the latest plant protection products in operation. They also open up the farms to fellow arable farmers as hosts of open days to visit the trial plots.
The Anthony’s are very selective in their choice of farm machinery and readily adopt the latest technologies in terms of controlled traffic systems and yield and farm nutrient mapping.
Recent developments include an agreement to supply a neighbouring anaerobic digester plant with maize silage. This includes receiving up to 90,000 cubic metres of digestate to spread as a nutrient on the arable land. This has provided challenges in terms of storage and also application of the liquid digestate. The judges were impressed with the progress to date in response to these challenges.
They have also installed a biomass unit (1 megawatt) and combined heat and power boiler (55 kilowatts) the heat of which dries the cereals, woodchip and logs and the power produces electricity.
Some land purchases were in progress when the judges visited. Their son David returned to join the farm business on graduation and the Anthony’s are formally looking at succession planning for the future. Richard has led the development of a sustainable, efficient, profitable arable, forage, diversified and integrated farming business.
Mr Sam Carey, Llanfor, Bala
Sam hails from a Dairy farm in North Pembrokeshire. Following school, he attended Coleg Ceredigion followed by four years at Harper Adams University graduating in 2011. For his sandwich training year he worked as fulltime herdsman at a 600 dairy cow operation in Oxfordshire. On graduation he worked on a large dairy farm in Arizona USA and then a large beef and sheep farm in New Zealand. These experiences consolidated his ambition and confirmed his interest in dairy cows.
The opportunity to return to the home farm was not an option. Inspired by his travels, Sam made contact with a number of influential farmers who were operating low cost grass based milk production systems. One of these was Rhys Williams who was operating a joint venture with farmer/landowner David Wynne Finch. He secured a post as an Assistant Manager of their Padog Farms in Pentrefoelas in 2013. The unit ran 430 crossbred spring calving dairy cows based on optimising the use of grass allied to strict cost control. Concurrently, Sam set up his own company, Milkwell Ltd., which provides a herd management and heifer leasing service. This enabled him to build up equity towards his goal of entering a joint venture.
During the two years he was at Padog Farms, Sam proved himself an extremely capable stock person and grassland manager. His potential was noted by his employers whose support and mentoring he acknowledges fully.
In 2015 a new opportunity arose – the Price family of Rhiwlas Estate near Bala were planning to set up, with considerable investment, a dairy unit. The investment included a rotary parlour, cow housing, slurry storage and the establishment of farm tracks and water supply and a paddock system to access the grazing platform. Sam was able to bring into the partnership the finance to purchase a share of the 500 cows. That finance was his own savings plus equity from Milkwell Ltd together with further bank borrowings. People put their faith in Sam by acting as guarantors for the borrowings.
The current partnership business extends to 650 acres carrying 500 cows, 170 heifer calves and 170 bulling heifers. Surplus heifers are sold to generate further equity. Sam employs two people plus some casual relief milkers. Sam informed us that his focus is on cows, grass, people and finance. We were extremely impressed with all the evidence presented to us which confirmed an extremely well run grass based dairy farm.
The judges were provided with detailed figures and information relating to grass productivity, milk solids output, feed usage, herd fertility and health data, soil status reports and financial performance indicators over four years of operation together with targets for the current production year. Such information is updated regularly to enable management adjustments to be made aiming for constant improvement in the system. All the data was shared with staff who were well informed. Sam holds great store in effective people management. Currently Sam is clear of debt, moreover, he has built up a significant equity which he estimates is compounding at a very impressive rate.
On his business development journey Sam has availed himself of many opportunities to study, travel and meet key industry influences home and abroad. This included the Richard John travel bursary to revisit New Zealand. He has also received several industry awards which are clear evidence of peer respect and recognition. He is a strategic and incisive thinker and makes things happen.
The current arrangement operates on a limited time tenure, and there is no doubt that Sam’s results driven managerial style will stand him in good stead in the future. His future ambition is to duplicate his current arrangements and possibly operate multiple ventures using his current successful business model. Importantly Sam sees this as an opportunity for him to employ and mentor young people giving them a chance to develop a farming business opportunity. Ownership of houses and land is also an option to consolidate his equity.
Sam’s capabilities allied to his drive and ambition are remarkable and infectious. He is succeeding in a very competitive business environment and has embarked successfully on a steep growth trajectory. The judges have no doubt that other landowners would wish to harness Sam’s managerial expertise to their mutual advantage.
Mr Dylan Harries & Mrs Hannah Harries, Tyddyn yr Eglwys, Clydey, Llanfyrnach
Dylan who had no previous direct link to dairy farming, started working on a local dairy farm whilst still a schoolboy at Crymych School. He left school at the age of 16 and worked initially for a year on a local organic dairy farm. This was followed by seven years working on another large dairy farm with the Thomas family at Drysgol Goch, Llanfyrnach. Here he was fortunate to work within an extremely well run dairy unit operating an autumn and spring calving blocks based on a top quality grassland management system. During this time, Dylan developed a genuine interest and career ambition to run a grass based low cost dairy operation. This ambition was fully crystallised when he travelled to New Zealand for a year where he worked on a series of dairy farms. On his return to Wales, Dylan met Hannah (who had no previous link with farming) and they embarked on applying for tenancies of council farms in England and Wales.
In 2013, a tender was circulating for a joint venture with a successful dairy farmer/businessman, Kim Petty, at Llanfyrnach in Pembrokeshire. This was a competitive tendering process with the farm owner emphasising that they were searching for a young couple to take on the joint venture. Following a 12-month period during which both parties worked to get to know each other, a formal joint venture was entered into. Dylan and Hannah clearly impressed.
At the outset, the farm consisted of 480 acres carrying 350 dairy cows with corresponding young stock and was set up for a spring block calving grass based system. Dylan and Hannah started with £10,000 and contributed the power and labour to the business. The understanding at the outset was that the landowner would own the first 350 cows and any expansion over and above this would accrue to Dylan and Hannah. This was the means by which they were to build up their equity. The business involves three companies, namely that of the owner, that of Dylan and Hannah and a joint venture company. Without going into detail, there is a clear understanding of contributions to the business and shares of the profits.
Dylan and Hannah have proved themselves to be extremely successful grassland and dairy herd managers and from the outset the joint venture prospered. Clearly their managerial expertise was appreciated by the owner, Kim Petty, who could see that they were capable of generating a surplus to provide a good return on capital invested.
However, it soon became apparent to all parties that they had to increase the output to deliver the cash needs of the owners and to enable them to increase their equity shares. Dylan and Hannah proposed a business plan to the owner to increase herd size to 550 whilst maintaining a low cost of production and enabling the generation of greater returns to both parties. The proposal consisted of a new slurry lagoon, self-feed silage pit, 300 cubicle shed, outdoor calving area and a new 50/100 herringbone parlour. The owners’ willingness to commit to this expenditure convinced the judges that Dylan and Hannah are a very accomplished team capable of delivering the planned rates of return on the investment.
Since the outset of the joint venture, considerable investment has been made into improved grassland management including cow tracks and supply of water. By way of background, it is important to note that in 2015 milk price was as low as 14p per litre. This made them acutely aware of the need for strict cost control and the need to manage risk. They are troubled by TB in the area. The area farmed is now at 720 acres of which 410 acres provides the grazing platform for 560 mainly crossbred cows and Dylan and Hannah employ the equivalent of 2.5 labour units. In 2018 all parties agreed to extend the arrangement for another five years.
Dylan noted some important lessons to be learnt during the development of the relationship, such as creating a model that works both for the owner farmer and the contractor, the importance of managing people and the ability to operate a profitable business whilst retaining as much cash as possible. He also noted the importance of establishing good relations with neighbours as they could be a source of further and future opportunities.
Dylan and Hannah have focussed on soil fertility and grassland improvement and have re seeded 60% of the land and increased grass growth from 9.2 tonnes to 14.5 Tdm per hectare. The standard of management of the crossbred dairy herd and the young stock was of a high order. They paid forensic attention to keeping physical and financial data. The judges were provided with detailed physical and financial information for the four years together with detailed budgets for the current year.
Dylan and Hannah are part of a discussion group which shares information to provide an objective benchmarking. It is appropriate to add that the Agricultural and Horticultural Development Board (AHDB) are considering working with them as one of three high level benchmarking farms in Wales. All technical and innovative opportunities are assessed and embraced to provide constant improvement. They were very clear on their short, medium and long term goals, for example in 10 years’ time when they are both 35 years old they are aiming for farm ownership. They are accumulating equity at an impressive rate having established a very effective dairy farm business.
They command the respect of their business partner and are highly regarded by their peers as being top operators in their field. They are a realistic hardworking couple in a very competitive field and deserve success.
Mr Matthew Jackson, Tudweiliog, Pwllheli
Matthew Jackson is from a non farming family originally from Manchester. His interest in farming germinated whilst his family holidayed on the Lleyn Peninsula. He left school at the age of 16 and started working on farms in Penllyn. At the age of 17, he travelled to New Zealand shearing sheep for four months. On his return he met Rhys Williams who was in the third year of a joint venture with David Wynne Finch at Cefn Amlwch. By this time he had also met his partner Mari from Penllyn.
In order to secure a post working on this large dairy herd, he travelled backed to New Zealand and spent six months milking dairy cows. He worked for Rhys Williams and David Wynne Finch for seven years managing a 1000 plus cows on a spring block calving grass based system. Concurrently, he began purchasing dairy bred heifer calves and renting pockets of land in the locality, ultimately ending up owning over 200 heifers, some of which he leased out to local dairy farms.
Importantly, he had found a very good funding model for leasing out his dairy heifers in New Zealand. By this time Rhys Williams had moved on to set up another dairy business and Matthew now occupied the position of Manager in Cefn Amlwch. During this period Matthew’s drive and willingness to develop high levels of dairy herd and grassland management skills including a recognition of the importance of detailed record keeping of all physical and financial information became recognised by his employers and his peers.
By this time Matthew had accumulated considerable equity and had explored with his bank the amount of money he could borrow. In 2015, the opportunity arose to enter a joint venture at Penllech Farm with David Wynne Finch. This was a 220 acre all grassland farm and the agreement was for 10 years. Matthew was able to bring to the partnership the equivalent of 300 dairy cows, his labour and management expertise. Average cow numbers currently stand at 430 with heifers contract-reared off farm in order to maximise cow numbers available. Surplus heifers are also reared for sale.
Matthew employs two people together with some casual help on the unit. High quality grassland management and very skilled stock husbandry, allied to excellent managerial skills has resulted in a business generating a very healthy surplus which is split between the partners in the joint venture. The judges were provided with detailed records of all aspects of the business for the last four years with budgets for the current year. His accumulation of equity of the years is also very commendable.
In addition to building up equity in stock, Matthew has also purchased a local property in order to provide security of funds. In 2018 Matthew began to seriously explore the next step in his plan which is to purchase land and replicate his successful grass dairy business model. While embarking on a purchase of a farm in the south of Wales, he entered another joint venture with a dairy farmer from Staffordshire and ultimately two farms were purchased.
At the time of the judges visit, Matthew was working very hard establishing these two units whilst managing his existing commitments. Both new farms coincidentally are 185 acres with plans to run 300 cows on each unit employing a share milker on each unit. Considerable investment was required on these farms in terms of milking facilities, housing and establishing grassland paddocks with cow tracks for access and water supply. A significant amount of grassland improvement has also been necessary.
Currently Matthew has embarked on a very big step in his progress which entailed considerable amounts of borrowing from his bank. He has done this based on a proven track record and the preparation of sound business plans which have been scrutinised thoroughly.
Matthew is a remarkable young man who sets himself very challenging goals. His achievements to date, within a relatively short timescale is to be admired and respected. He is at the very top of his game and it is no surprise that he is young man in demand to speak on farmer platforms in UK and Ireland. He is indeed an inspiration and role model to young farmers who would emulate his pathway to progress. He takes all opportunities to travel having been to the USA and New Zealand several times, once on a Richard John travel bursary. He has also attended a wealth creation course run by well-known Welsh and Irish entrepreneurs/facilitators. He is a true professional preparing thoroughly and paying meticulous attention to detail in order to develop his business. The judges were very impressed with what they saw and heard having been provided with detailed figures and costings.
The winner will be announced at the Royal Welsh Agricultural Society award presentations on the first day of the show, Monday 22 July 2019, at 2.30pm.