Priddbwll Mawr, LLangedwyn, Powys
When it comes to climbing the farming ladder, few can have made such a spectacular ascent as Welsh Borders farmer Martin Evans.
Leaving school at 16, he started off renting a small piggery and rearing pigs for a local butcher. He then bought a mower and, borrowing his Dad’s tractor, added contract mowing to his farming portfolio. A year later, in 1985, he bought his own tractor and a forager, offering a full silaging service.
“But I always wanted to farm in my own right and, having built up some capital, started applying for a county council holding,” he explains. “At the third attempt, in 1989, I managed to obtain a 36 acre smallholding where I started rearing beef cattle.”
To supplement his income, he also diversified into shed erection, giving him three distinct strings to his bow – farming, contracting and building. It is a combination he maintains to this day.
“But I really wanted to be in dairy farming, and three years later was successful in obtaining a tenancy on a 77ha (190-acre) dairy holding, here in Powys,” Martin recalls. “I sold the beef cows and used the money to buy dairy cows, starting with 96 animals as a flying herd.”
Through sheer hard graft and determination, the enterprise was steadily expanded, starting with a new slurry store, housing for 160 cows and a new parlour. With extra land either bought or rented, he currently farms 175ha (434 acres), with 260 pedigree Holsteins averaging about 9300 litres a year.
On the contracting side, 2220ha (5500 acres) of silage are cut each year, while three teams are kept busy each winter with umbilical slurry injection. “We do a lot of deep injecting – four to five inches,” says Martin. “That aerates the soil, promotes better rooting and saves a fortune on fertiliser.”
The farm buildings side has also grown, designing and building everything from simple barns to complete dairy units with rotary parlours. “We put up more than 15 buildings a year.”
Total investment at Priddbwll Mawr, including substantial milk quota purchases, comes to about £620,000. “But the way business growth has been achieved, the profits generated have enabled all of our borrowings to be repaid.”
Running three separate businesses means that much of the day-to-day routine of breeding, feeding and milking is left to herdsman Mike Scott. The cows are housed for about eight months of the year and are kept in at night all year round, as this makes the job of controlling intakes and monitoring cow health much easier.
Martin, meanwhile attends to the overall business strategy. “Our aim is to produce milk as cost effectively as possible, while maximising cow comfort, welfare and longevity.”
One recent innovation is the introduction of HeatTime activity monitors, to try and improve on fertility. Due to herd expansion, the calving index had stretched to 440 days, with more intervention needed from the vet.
But the new system has already cut the calving index to 422 days, helped push up yields to more than 9300 litres and reduced the need for drugs. Martin puts the output gain at about £49,000 a year for an investment of £7000.
And such improvements are crucial to the long-term development of the business, he says. Because, even though the farm has enjoyed one of its most profitable six months ever, input costs are now catching up fast. “Forward buying of feed and fertiliser saved us £36,000 last winter, but now they are threatening margins.”
Martin says it is frustrating that getting a better milk price is always a battle. But he is clearly someone who likes to be in charge of his own destiny, so it is no surprise to find him actively involved in milk marketing.
Martin joined Arla as a supplier in 2003, to focus on the less volatile liquid market. He is now a producer director for the Arla Milk Partnership and last year his face was used on cartons of Welsh Milk sold in Asda stores.
What the judges liked
- Fantastic story of business growth
- Strongly invoved in the marketing of milk through Arla
- Self-reliant, maximising the use of own resources
- Great innovation
- 115ha (284 acres) rented, 60ha (150 acres) owned
- Heavy loam, to 150m altitiude, high rainfall
- 260 Holstein cows producing 2.4m litres
- 16 employees split between dairying, contracting and building