Farming Stalwarts – Welsh pioneer Richard ap Simon Jones

Though now retired, Richard ap Simon Jones is still a passionate campaigner for family farming and rural communities.

The fact that he still signs himself ap Simon, which means son of Simon, also demonstrates his love of Welsh traditions and respect for his late father.

Having survived a heart attack and triple bypass surgery in 1990, he now takes life a bit easier than when he and his wife Gwenda were building their farming business.

This has now been split between their sons William and Simon, although Richard still takes a keen interest and is still prepared to lend a hand when asked.

Between them the sons farm about 607ha (4500 acres) of owned and rented land in Meirionydd, and three of Richard’s grandsons are now involved.

But it all started much more modestly on the 60ha (150-acre) Dyfi Valley farm where Richard was born in September 1925. He was one of three boys, so his father developed the business by taking on a 405ha (1000-acre) hard hill unit.

At the age of nine Richard was already doing his bit when not at school. He also helped his grand-father, a farmer and sheep dealer who supplemented his income by working in a lead mine, driving mobs of up to 900 sheep 40 miles on foot to sell on the Shropshire border.

Memories of the infamous winter of 1947 are still vivid. A bad summer meant that little hay had been made and only 100 lambs survived compared with 1000 the year before.

But Richard had a much better year in 1952 when he married Gwenda and started renting Ysgub-oriau, his father-in law’s 164ha (450-acre) farm near Tywyn.

The deal included the herd of registered Welsh Black cattle that Mrs Jones’s family had run on the unit since 1904.

For a while some of the cattle were milked to supply a local creamery, but the breed was not really suited to dairying. Richard set about expanding and improving the herd for beef. He chaired the breed society for most of the ’80s, when Continental breeds became prominent.

His son William became just as keen on Welsh Blacks and, like his father, had many notable showring successes, including taking the Royal Welsh supreme interbreed beef championship in 1986.

But, as the family took on more land, the decision was taken to stop showing, though Richard can still be seen ringside for the judging of breed classes at many summer shows.

As the business grew he accepted that the traditional type of very hardy Welsh Mountain sheep that he had relied on in the past must be replaced by something bigger.

Now his sons run a mixture of breeds and crosses and sell the sort of high-quality prime lambs that would have once been impossible to produce on upland farms.

Many Welsh farmers who know little or nothing about Richard’s stockmanship skills would, nevertheless, nominate him as one of farming’s stalwarts on the strength of his involvement in farming politics.

For more than 50 years he has found the time to use his membership of the Farmers Union of Wales to battle, locally and nationally, on behalf of Welsh farmers.

For him the highlight of campaigning was the day in the late ’70s when John Silkin, then Minister of Agriculture, announced he would give the Welsh union the same recognition as the NFU.

In June this year the FUW marked his commitment over five decades by presenting him with its top award.

He feels that most politicians have failed to recognise the contribution farmers make to feeding people and protecting the landscape.

“There is so much uncertainty. All the emphasis seems to be on environmental schemes. Improved upland areas are being allowed to revert to heather and rough grazing and good land is planted with trees.

simon jones 
In June this year the FUW marked his commitment over five decades by presenting him with its top award
“Income from farming is too low. I can understand why so many farmers’ sons and daughters are not willing to stay on the land.”

Angered when an American tourist suggested that the stunning landscape of west Wales was the result of its designation as a national park, Richard quickly told him he was wrong and that it was the product of generations of family farming.

“I am frightened that politicians will drive people from the land by scrapping support for livestock production in the hills. Communities are already struggling, schools and shops are closing, and the Welsh language and culture is under threat.

“I am a great supporter of the Prince of Wales for the way he has spoken up for hill farming.”

He remembers other occasions when farming was under severe pressure. At one point he saw a 688ha (1700-acre) farm a few miles from where he lives sell for £1700. But he hopes growing political awareness of the importance of food security will make politicians see sense.

Just in case they are reluctant to do so, he intends to use his retirement years to continue lobbying on behalf of the industry.

“They can be made to listen, especially if an election is close, so we must keep on the pressure.”

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