18 January 2002

Welsh Assembly on hunt for 10 top dairy units

By Robert Davies

Wales correspondent

THE search is on to find 10 well-managed Welsh dairy farms for the Welsh Assemblys ambitious Dairy Development Programme.

The units will demonstrate best dairy farming practice and will be linked to discussion groups. Selected producers will get fast track access to free business reviews, advice and grants offered through the multi-agency Farming Connect initiative.

They will also be paid for providing facilities for a large number of visitors.

"We are particularly looking for producers with added-on enterprises, such as cheese processing, specialist calf rearing or tourism," says project manager John Griffiths.

Mr Griffiths will be based at Gelli Aur College in Carmarthenshire, one of the projects three contracted development farms. The other two are likely to be Ty Gwyn, the Institute of Grassland and Environmental Researchs organic unit near Aberystwyth, and Llysfasi College, Denbighshire.

Each will be the focus for demonstrations and seminars and will receive cash for farm scale research.

Already, Gelli Aur plans to create a new 50-cow herd to assess whether fully automated milking can give Welsh producers more time for alternative enterprises, or for earning money off-farm.

Centres will also be involved in linked farm projects. One of the first involves producers supplying a cheese making creamery, which will assess how improving breeding, better forage conservation and modifying concentrate feeding improves milk protein content.

Financial support already received by Gelli Aur for being the MDCs Welsh Focus Centre will be pooled with £315,000 of EU Objective 1 cash and Welsh Development Agency money to fund these projects.

Mr Griffiths and his team plan to work closely with Welsh discussion groups and grassland societies, arranging farm visits, courses, study tours and conferences.

In return for help, groups will be asked to find five volunteers to provide business information in confidence. This will be used to calculate benchmark figures for different sized herds managed in different ways.

"Average figures will be published to give every Welsh milk producer the opportunity to compare results with the industry average for the type of farm," says Mr Griffiths.

The dairy programme is one of three being funded by the Welsh Assembly and EU. MLC has won the contract to establish a similar structure for red meat producers and the Welsh Organic Centre at Aberystwyth will be the service provider for the organic sector. &#42

John Griffiths, Ann Owen and Iwan Thomas will help arrange farm visits, courses, study tours and conferences for Welsh milk producers.