11 February 2000

Lack of backing for co-op is big disappointment

News may not be so bright

on the political front, but at

least recent scanning shows

that Cilgoeds lamb crop

should hit the 160% target.

Robert Davies reports

CEIRIOG Jones is disappointed with the outcome of the feasibility study into the creation of a new Welsh livestock co-op.

Though he acknowledges the risks, and knows that farmers have bitter memories of past failures, he had hoped for a strong recommendation that producers should get involved in downstream processing.

Given the caution expressed about this, he now doubts whether enough farmers will rush to invest £230 each in what would be a livestock procurement and marketing organisation to make it viable.

"I will still join if I am satisfied that money will not be wasted on administration. But in areas like this, where there are several competing abattoirs and good livestock markets, I think that there will be little enthusiasm."

Despite wet conditions most of Cilgoeds ewes are still at grass. Those over-fat at tupping have lost one condition score. 390 ewes are carrying twins, 162 should bring singles and 32 could deliver triplets.

These can be a nuisance under hill conditions, but where they are fostered to replace lost lambs they could help Mr Jones achieve his target of 160 lambs reared/100 ewes tupped. The 16 empty ewes will be rescanned with the ewe lambs. Any that conceived late will be sold with 80 in-lamb ewe lambs.

For several years Mr Jones has bought in large numbers of ewe lambs to tup and resell on a strong local market, but demand has fallen as more flockmasters keep ewes longer to cut replacement costs.

This year 20 home-bred and 60 ewe lambs bought in for £26 a head will be marketed in late February. In the past the enterprise regularly generated £10 to cover costs and £10 profit but will probably struggle to do the same this year.

Older ewes have been housed on hay and concentrate. Local contractors son Rhys Jones, a former Welsh Young Shearer of the Year, has clipped the bellies and tails of hoggets before marketing.

The last 90 lambs sold deadweight averaged 19kg on the hook and £33 a head. When he went through the abattoir report, and looked at returns for 26 lambs sold through Ruthin Market, Mr Jones noticed that his pure bred Beulahs tended to classify better and make more money.

"I think it would be better to concentrate on improving the Beulahs, which are easier to manage than cross-breds anyway. This will also pay off if we succeed in setting up a local breeders club and organise a catalogue sale in September."

Breeders attending a meeting arranged for May will get details of available marketing grants, and expert advice on raising the profile of the Beulah in north Wales.

The annual bank review went well. The main outcome of the meeting was that the business was holding its own, just, and Mr Jones had been right to reduce stocking and labour.

Recently, he was one of the main speakers at a farming and environment conference at Llysfasi College. But he found it difficult to predict the future of family livestock farms. "I know where I have been and have some idea where I am now, but it is hard to forecast whether farms like mine can survive the crisis in the industry, environmental pressures and the crippling level of bureaucracy."

He put these points to Christine Gwyther, the Welsh Assemblys agriculture secretary, when she spoke at an NFU meeting at the local community centre. Her response, which was to suggest that upland family farmers should be thinking about organic farming and diversification, horrified him.

"Like most farmers I am totally disillusioned with the Assembly. Every bit of help it tries to offer farming is ruled out of order, and it has made such a mess of obtaining match funding for EU Objective 1 money that people who can diversify will not get help." &#42

Left: Local contractors son Rhys Jones, a former champion shearer, clips hoggets bellies and tails to clean them up ready for market. Below: Taking hay to ewes on the hill.

FARMFACTS

&#8226 An 81ha (200-acre) farm in north Wales owned and run by Ceiriog Jones and his wife Mair who are also tenants on a further 18ha (44 acres). There is 10ha (25 acres) on an 11-month let.

&#8226 Most land is steep, classified as severely disadvantaged. It carries 600 Builth Wells-type Beulah ewes, 250 ewe lambs and 60 spring and summer calving suckler cows.

&#8226 Older ewes not breeding replacements are put to Bluefaced Leicester tups to produce Welsh Mules for sale as ewe lambs or yearlings. Bull calves, once finished on farm, now planned to be sold on green CIDs.

&#8226 Mr Jones was a Welsh Sheep Strategy scholarship winner in 1998. The farm is one of three in Wales selected for an MLC co-ordinated technology transfer project.