19 July 2002

WA studies rural age balance

THE Welsh Assembly has launched a study into the scope for maintaining age-balanced rural communities.

Rural development minister, Mike German, claims that the outward migration of young people is a big concern that he is determined to address. His favoured approach is two pronged; helping family farms survive and prosper enough to employ sons and daughters, and creating non-farming jobs in the countryside.

In August Mr German will visit Gary Yeomans, who chairs Future Farmers of Wales. Unlike the YFC movement the organisation only recruits members who work in the industry and have an agricultural training.

Mr Yeomans will tell him that the chance to start farming in his own right came with help from his family, and as a result of flexible thinking.

His grandfather once farmed the 42.4ha (105 acres) at Pant Farm, Llanveitherine, Monmouthshire, that he rents from his parents. With years of experience running a dairy herd on his home farm he would like to stock it with cows. But the cost of buildings, milking facilities, slurry storage and milkers was too high.

Instead he turned to dairy goats. Because they are difficult to fence in, and have low resistance to stomach worms, this still involved putting up a shed to house them all year round. He still has to invest in a parlour, but hopes to get a 45% Welsh Assembly Farm enterprise grant.

"But the total investment will be a fraction of what would have been needed for cows," says Mr Yeomans. "There is no way I could have afforded to start farming conventionally on my own, and many well trained young people are in the same position."

A £1500 award from the YFC/NatWest Bank rural enterprise scheme helped the former Nuffield Scholar set up the business, which already runs 100 goats.

He and partner Jess Rumsey plan to expand the herd to 250 head over the next two years. At present a local dairy will take all the milk he can produce, but Mr Yeomans knows that the market could be flooded if others follow his example. In the long term they might have to invest in some on-farm processing.

Land not needed to grow maize or whole-crop peas and barley has been let as grass keep, and he is rearing some dairy heifers for his father.

"People running small farms like this have to be flexible and prepared to try anything that will generate income."

But Mr Yeomans is worried that when farmers decide instead to quit the industry their units will not be available to young entrants. "If this farm had not been in the family the house and a small block of land would probably have been sold for a very high price, the traditional buildings may have been converted for other uses, and the land sold or leased."

He would like to see politicians who talk about the importance of new blood entering the industry come up with practical ideas for achieving it.

"Members of Future Farmers of Wales try to stay upbeat. They want their family businesses to survive until they can take over, or they want the chance to use their skills on farms of their own." &#42

Dairy unit with a difference… Gary Yeoman has established a dairy goat herd.