Worry grows over lack of succession opportunity

Concern is growing at the number of Welsh farm businesses unable to support sons and daughters who wish to succeed their parents on the family farm, according to Ken Bellis, chairman of NFU Cymru’s Clwyd branch.

Mr Bellis reckons he meets enough fellow producers to know that his pessimism about succession is widely shared.

“We have worked for almost 30 years to develop a partnership that includes our son Vincent and daughter Sandra, but it has become impossible to make enough money out of beef and sheep production despite farming over 500 acres,” he said.

“This contrasts with the situation in 1978 when we started out by buying 135 acres that once provided a living for five families.

I estimate that we would need at least twice our current area of land to survive without diversification.”

Mr Bellis, whose business is based at Tir Hir Farm, Llandegla, runs 300 breeding ewes and 400 beef cattle.

But he insists that the family’s farming is sustained by running a haulage business.

“British farming is the only industry that cannot set its own end prices.

We are at the mercy of our buyers.”

To prove his point he uses the fact that he buys about 30t of washed carrots every week that have been rejected by supermarkets.

These have the feeding value equivalent of about 6.5t of barley.

“When I send store cattle to market I have to accept the price on the day, or bring them home and face a six-day movement standstill.

“We are in a scheme that pays a premium on finished cattle, but no matter how hard we concentrate on producing quality stock we have to accept the weekly price, or pay to feed them a bit longer.”

Mr Bellis hopes politicians and consumers will show more commitment to UK farming, but fears that many Welsh livestock producers could use their single farm payments and agri-environment incentives to revert to lower output farming, or even ranching.

“I believe that, like us, most farmers want to go on being food producers even if that means developing diversifications.”