18 February 2000

TOP ACCOLADE FOR A WOMAN OF INTEGRITY

Though she was born in England Margaret Daltons naming

as the NFUs Woman Farmer of the Year 2000 was

particularly well received in Wales where she now lives.

Robert Davies knows her well

ON EACH of 30 visits made to Margarets Cardiganshire farm for farmers weeklys Management Matters series she insisted that the report must be a true reflection of her life, warts and all. When things went badly wrong, as they often did, many readers telephoned and wrote to offer support.

Welsh farmers singled her out at markets and shows to thank her for honestly and graphically portraying events that matched their own struggles against the weather, veterinary problems, bureaucracy and falling livestock prices.

They applauded her openness and willingness to admit mistakes. But most of all they admired her determination to beat the odds to stay in farming, and to back her son Johns developing contracting business.

What few admirers knew, however, was that Margarets grit and resolve had been tested to the limit when she was widowed after 15 years of marriage. The death of Donald Dalton from cancer left her with two young sons, a largely undeveloped upland farm and a very big overdraft.

&#42 Rallied round

Neighbours and friends rallied round and now, 24 years later, Gelligarneddau near Lampeter carries 500 ewes and 90 suckler cows. At 63 she still produces poultry for the Christmas and Easter markets, and has a small self-catering tourist enterprise.

Somehow she also finds time to run a home, be a devoted grandmother, plan Lampeter Discussion Groups annual farming tour, and chair or serve on several farming organisations.

As 1999 Welsh Woman Farmer of the Year she attended dozens of events, but only after several hours of farm work. She remains totally committed to the concept of family farming, and woe betide any politician or academic who suggests that farms like Gelligarneddau have no future.

&#42 Determination

She and John are determined to continue producing high quality stock on their 129.3ha (320-acre) unit, even though John has to earn money off the farm through contracting and a recently acquired quad bike business.

Margaret, who is the first to concede that her award is nothing to do with having the best managed or tidiest farm in Wales, was astonished to win. She is also uncomfortable with the citation, which commended her steadfast resolve, courage and commitment to farming.

The truth is that, while picking up prizes is enjoyable, she is happier in the lambing shed than attending conferences and staying at top hotels. But the award means a very full diary and a lot of travelling for a second successive year.

Those who know her well say she had earned her new celebrity and should enjoy it. They are also confident that when it is over she will not have changed one iota.