22 March 2002

SMALLIN STATURE,BUTBIGINAMBITION

People meeting Annette Spratt for the first time are

often astonished to hear that she is an award-winning

farmer. Robert Davies explains why

PEOPLE find it hard to believe that Annette Spratt, an attractive, slightly built young mother who stands a smidgen over 5ft tall in her wellies, can run a dairy farm almost single-handed.

"There is a widely held perception that farm wives are red-cheeked ladies who spend their time baking, rearing children and running farmhouses," says Annette. "Well I have the rosy cheeks but because my husband works off the farm, I am a full-time farmer in my own right and have to fit in housework and child care."

Last December the way the plumbers daughter from Gloucestershire combines being a farmer, homemaker and mother greatly impressed the judges of the NFU Cymru/Natwest Bank Wales Woman Farmer of the Year Award.

When they named her the winner it was a real tonic that could not have come at a better time to counter the severe stresses felt by Annette and most other farmers last year. "During the summer I felt really low but, as most women would do, I worked my way through with the help of my family and doctor."

Employing a student helped, and Annette has now decided to take on regular part-time help at Lower Creswell Farm, Laugharne in Carmarthenshire.

&#42 Punishing task

Even so the workload will still be punishing because she is determined to do a good job of farming, while ensuring that her children, Marianne 9 and Christopher 5, will not miss out on any of the activities enjoyed by their friends. She also is adamant that she will continue to play hockey and attend computer classes.

"It would be very easy to become totally immersed in the farm, but I believe that outside interests are essential to protect my sanity. With no family living close by, finding baby sitters is a problem but we do try to go out together, and have a family holiday abroad."

Annette and Tim, a farmers son, met in 1982 at a Young Farmers club. A year later she went to Hartpury Agricultural College and was Student of the Year. After a spell working as a veterinary surgery assistant she and Tim married and moved to west Wales. It was the only area where land prices were low enough to let them get a foot on the farming ladder.

Their wedding present from Tims parents, John and Jean, was a starter herd of 25 cows. The in-laws also helped with the purchase of the 29ha (72-acre) farm, which had a milking parlour, but no cubicles.

&#42 Concrete laid

In the first six months they laid 13 full loads of concrete and worked hard sorting out the buildings. Cow numbers increased steadily, but it was soon obvious that producing milk and doing a bit of outside contracting would not pay off borrowings and keep the expanding family.

"I had no real qualifications for an outside job so we decided that I should run the farm on my own. Tim firstly obtained an HGV licence, and later gained the special licence needed to transport hazardous materials like fuel."