For years, Lyndon Edwards has been an advocate for keeping small family farms alive. Here, he speaks to Gaina Morgan about his achievements and future challenges to the industry.
Sitting down for an afternoon cup of tea in the kitchen at the heart of his idyllic 49-hectare Monmouthshire farm, Lyndon Edwards MBE initially thought it was a joke when he opened the letter which asked whether he would be prepared to accept an MBE.
The date was November 20, 2018 – and it had come from the Cabinet Office.
“When I saw who the the letter was from, I thought: ’What have I done now?’ says Lyndon, former NFU Cymru Livestock Board chairman.
“I told my wife, Liz, I thought it had to be a joke and turned the envelope inside out. It was totally surreal, because so many people out there have done so much more.”
It was, however, precisely because Lyndon has done so much more during his long career in farming, that prompted the honour, for services to agriculture in Monmouthshire, after dedicating himself to be a voice for small family farms.
The letter came from the ceremonial officer on behalf of the Prime Minister, who had recommended the appointment to the Queen.
The original submission reads: “I am confident that there are very few people, if any, who do as much as Lyndon does to support the agricultural industry and community in Monmouthshire.
“Very few who give up as much of their time, so consistently and altruistically, across such a broad spectrum of organisations and activities, as Lyndon.”
His help comes in all shapes and sizes too, whether working as a livestock fieldsman for ABP in one of his voluntary roles, or just chatting to those who need someone to talk to.
He says: “It’s come out in the citation for the MBE, but I wasn’t aware that people have appreciated me simply when they’ve asked, ‘What do you reckon, Lyndon?’ and I’ve said, ‘This is what I’ve tried, and this has worked or not worked’.
His concern is to do his bit to survive the onslaught he believes will mean the end of the smaller scale livestock farm that once provided a good living for farming families in Monmouthshire, Wales and beyond.
He says: “I go into all the supermarkets like Tesco, Aldi, Asda and Waitrose in Monmouth. I just see what they have got on the shelves and how much competition we’ve got from New Zealand.”
Often, he says, a lack of Welsh produce is simply an oversight. He recalls the instance in 2016 of a Tesco supermarket stocking ‘wall-to-wall’ New Zealand lamb in June, when prime Welsh lamb is readily available.
It transpired that a default system meant that New Zealand lamb was automatically sourced to top up shelves. After Lyndon’s intervention, the store manager agreed to simply press a different button and specify Welsh lamb. The updated system is now in place in a further 20 Tesco stores across Wales.
“I’m a producer of lamb. I want it sold. I don’t want New Zealand lamb on the shelf at all,” says Lyndon.
“I will only really tolerate New Zealand lamb when they need to do promotions, such as Christmas and Easter.
“But otherwise, when we must export 95 per cent of our lamb I don’t see why, especially if in the future we can’t export, we can’t be consuming it at home and not have New Zealand as competition.
“More producers should be going in and having a word – not bashing the supermarkets, but giving them the facts. Welsh lamb is available in June, so why aren’t you selling it?”
His role as NFU Cymru Livestock Board chairman was fascinating and rewarding and he has also been only too pleased to contribute at meetings, to support Farming Connect, stock judging training and his beloved Monmouth Show, with which he has been involved for 40 years.
He has also judged finished lambs twice at the Royal Welsh Winter Fair, judging the lowland sheep pairs in 2012 and the upland pairs last year.
Lyndon’s motivation is his passion for the small Welsh livestock farm – and his farm is typical of those he feels will not survive.
Its 49 hectares is the average size of a farm claiming on the Basic Payment Scheme.
The Edwards family has farmed Lower Llantrothy, Dingestow, near Monmouth, for almost a century and Lyndon’s father was able to raise a family of four children there.
Lyndon has had to work hard to survive financially since the 1960s and took on a job as fieldsman with ABP 20 years ago. His wife, Liz, worked full time as a teacher and he emphasises her ’enormous’ contribution.
But he has radically altered his farming system in response to market and support changes and a few years ago, diagnosed with prostate cancer, he chose to publicise his condition, to alert other men of ’a certain age’.
He now keeps 1,000 Texel cross Mule or Texel out of Suffolk Cross store lambs finished every year, providing a 21kg carcase with a strong possibility of a bonus within the EU classification.
He also finishes 100 Aberdeen Angus store cattle, chosen for the market and for their ability to convert grass and forage, selling at 330 to 400kg deadweight for a good price, plus a premium.
It is all underpinned by his ’rocket fuel’ red clover, which he describes as being productive, cheap to establish and cheap to farm, with huge levels of production.
But changes to farm support, planned independently of Brexit, will make it even more difficult for the farm to remain viable.
He says: “My average BPS payment is £10,000 and that is now immediately going to come off my bottom line once the Welsh Assembly takes that BPS away from us, which they plan to do in two years’ time.
“The way they are going to pay in the future on public goods, with a budget that is not yet set, there is no way that I would – even going through all the hoops – get anything like £10,000 again.
“Whatever happens in the future it will be watered down, because the budget is as it is and there are so many more agencies – the forestry, the county councils, Ministry of Defence – that will be making claims.
“We’ve already lost more than 25 per cent of it through modulation, so I am quite perturbed by the unbending nature of the Welsh Government and the fact they won’t keep the payment going for at least a five-year period.”
Lyndon feels the Welsh Government should recognise that farmers will extensify, cutting production and bringing an inevitable rise in food prices.
And he finds the Welsh Government consultation document, Brexit and Our Land ‘frustrating and short-sighted’.
He says: “There is honestly barely a word about food production. About a third of it is on, in their way, some support for food producers rather than food production and 50 pages on public goods.
“That’s not going to suit Monmouthshire. Most of us are small livestock producers who have only just ticked over during the last years.”
He says with a world population of nine billion expected by 2050 and the effects of climate change, there should be more understanding of global food supply and of the lack of profitability in UK farming.
Farmers need the Government to enable them to iron out some of the volatility in the market, by easing regulations and paying more attention to those actually producing food and less to ’appease’ the green lobby.
Lyndon fears that, unless there is more Government understanding, there will be no new generation to maintain the present farming structure.
He says: “There is no golden bullet, but Government needs to understand the need to cut the volatility. Youngsters coming into farming on either side of the industry, or those heading for on-farm careers or working in the allied industry, need to have strong core farms behind them.”