Strength in numbers

A group of young farmers who took their plans for supplying high quality lamb to Marks & Spencer are about to see their initiative rewarded.

From 4 July, lamb produced by the group of nine young farmers will start to appear in the 17 Marks & Spencer stores across Wales.

And the contract they have won will provide the producers with a premium fixed price over the next six months.

Initially 10 farmers with an average age of 32 approached Huw Davies, a farmer and facilitator with Agrisgop, the Welsh Assembly government and EU-funded free farm management and business development programme.

“The 10 realised that for their family farms to be sustainable they needed to progress from the tradition of just producing meat for a processor,” recalls Huw.

“They all farmed in their own right, or with wives and partners, and had no senior partners pulling the strings.

“All were passionate about farming, had made brave decisions about buying or renting land, and nine were already committed to producing high quality farm assured lamb. The 10th member is currently establishing a flock.”

From the earliest meetings the group placed the emphasis on developing a product for which potential customers would compete to put on their shelves.

All supplied the Dunbia abattoir at Llanybyther and the management there agreed to support the group, as did Crosshands-based processors Dawn Meats.

Equipped with production and processing plans they approached two leading retailers and attended interviews in London, after which they decided to supply 200 lambs a week over an initial six-month period to M&S.

“The company set tough challenges, but all group members considered that it had a progressive approach to agriculture,” says Huw.

“Members are technically proficient and have grasped the concept of collaborative marketing. They have established commendable food chain relationships.

“The contract they have acquired with an outstanding retailer gives them confidence to invest in their young businesses to secure the sustainability of their farms,” he says.

The group’s approach has now won the enthusiastic support of the Prince of Wales after it was brought to the attention of Peter Davies, co-ordinator of the Prince’s charitable interests.

Group members were invited to meet Prince Charles at Highgrove to explain their plans. Ties between the young farmers and the trust were forged and the group agreed to provide work placements for young people selected by the Prince’s Trust and Gelli Aur College in Carmarthenshire.

The Prince’s Trust involvement will be acknowledged on labels on the lamb packs.

Further support came through M&S’s links with Rissington Genetics, which will provide help via its five-year breed improvement programme.

Rob Cumine, M&S agricultural manager, said: “What we liked about this group is its members’ absolute commitment to supplying the best quality lamb possible.

“Consumers come to our stores for great tasting, quality food. If we get the product right then that’s half the battle the second half is paying a fair price to farmers.”

The deal also dovetailed with the company’s commitment to regional sourcing and efforts to combat climate change, he said.

  • M&S offers record milk price, p.20

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