A major farming company has announced its withdrawal from milk production with the sale of its two dairy herds in Pembrokeshire.
Frederick Hiam Ltd, which also farms about 2,800ha of vegetables and arable crops in East Anglia, said it would be exiting dairy farming in Wales “with great regret”.
The company started dairy farming 40 years ago in Pembrokeshire – first at Corston Farm, Hundleton, followed shortly by the addition of Lower Broadmoor Farm, Talbenny.
The two dairy herds have produced high yields at a competitive cost, but the downturn in milk prices over the past two years has forced the business to reassess its future.
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Company chairman Christopher Wilson said: “My family has been farming in eastern England for four generations – well over 100 years – and for two generations in Wales.
“It is sad for us that we are leaving Wales but we cannot ignore the marketplace. Despite our best efforts we have reluctantly concluded that we cannot continue under these circumstances.”
Mr Wilson said staff had worked hard to ensure the success of the dairies, including farm manager Darren Callan, who joined the business more than 20 years ago as a young graduate.
“Darren and his team have done a superb job,” said Mr Wilson.
“The condition and performance of the farms and livestock is down to their diligence and expertise. This outcome is disappointing for them too but we are doing all we can to make things as bearable as can be.”
Lindsay Hargreaves, Frederick Hiam managing director, said company and its shareholders had not taken the decision to quit dairy lightly.
“This is a major shift for the company and also for the industry,” he said.
“This change will result in the loss of 700 dairy cows from the UK herd, eight jobs and 7m litres of annual milk production.”
The dairy farms were once a valuable complementary activity to Frederick Hiam’s vegetable and arable operations in East Anglia, said Mr Hargreaves.
But the lack of stability and commitment shown towards primary milk producers had created a commercial environment that the company could no longer tolerate.
The dispersal of the commercial Holstein-Friesian herds will start on Wednesday 15 June at Carmarthen Livestock Mart and will continue over the following weeks.
Auctioneer John Eirian Davies who will be conducting the sale said the farms would be brought to market immediately upon the clearance of the live and dead stock.
“This is an important sale bringing some very good stock to market, as predominantly autumn calving herds this will give buyers a great opportunity to add prime stock to their herds.”
Despite the downturn, some dairy producers see a bright future for the sector in Wales.
In neighbouring Carmarthenshire, one dairy farmer with a herd of about 1,700 cows is planning further expansion.
Howell Richards has lodged a planning application for housing and infrastructure to accommodate 350 cows at Cwrt Malle Farm, Llangynog.
The application was withdrawn last May but has been lodged again with Carmarthenshire County Council.
The application is controversial. Local Assembly Member, Angela Burns, described it as “unthinkable” that another 350 cows should be added to the development.
“The large-scale, more industrialised type of farming that we are seeing at Cwrt Malle is causing havoc for surrounding residents and motorists.”
In a letter to the council’s planning department, local county councillor Jeff Thomas described it as an application of “great sensitivity’’ due to concerns about environmental, noise and traffic issues.
The application will be discussed by the councillors on Carmarthenshire Council planning committee over the coming weeks.
The farm hit the headlines two years ago when about 70 cattle died following an outbreak of botulism, believed to have originated from the carcass of a rotting animal in silage.
Additional reporting by Debbie James.