North Wales young farmer Joe Parry is all too familiar with the challenges facing agriculture but fuelled by ambition and focus he is relishing his opportunity to continue the legacy on his family farm, as Danusia Osiowy discovered.
It would be fair to say Joe Parry embraced his time as a student. From acting as a university ambassador to social secretary and questioning Ministers, he also completed a hugely successful 12-month work placement for which he won an award for recognising his contribution.
Such was his overall student experience, he is already implementing what he learned and incorporating it into his mixed farm business in North Wales.
His enthusiasm, dedication and application earned him the deserved title of Agricultural Student of the Year, co-organised by Farmers Guardian.
Joe, a keen advocate of education, says: “I believe the study of agriculture is critical to educate young farmers to ensure a productive and sustainable future for the industry.
“During my time at university I realised farming is just as much a business as it is a way of life.”
Alongside his parents, Selwyn and Jessie, the trio own 120 hectares (297 acres) and rent a further 40 hectares (99 acres) in Melin-y-Wig, between the market towns of Ruthin and Corwen.
Across this are 200 pure-bred Welsh Mountain ewes, 200 Welsh Mountain ewes crossed with Bluefaced Leicester rams, 200 Welsh Mule ewes crossed with Beltex rams, 16 Welsh Black cows and nine Aberdeen-Angus cows.
Graduating from Harper Adams University with a first-class degree in agriculture last year, Joe returned to the farm and began implementing changes to the sheep and cattle there.
“My parents bred Welsh Mountain sheep and Welsh Black Cattle, whereas we now cross the older Welsh Mountain ewes with Bluefaced Leicester rams to produce Welsh Mules.
“We then keep the Mule ewe lambs and cross them with Beltex rams to try and meet market requirement and target specifications.
“The sheep flock has become more stratified with breeds to suit and better use all our grassland.”
Alongside his mother Jessie Parry, Joe runs the Section B Eyarth Stud, which has sold ponies to clients in Australia and the US.
After he secured a work placement year with renowned Aberdeen-Angus breeders John and Marion Tilson, Wedderlie Farm, Scottish Borders, Joe worked across the 1,000 hectares (2,470 acres) with their 200-cattle and Welsh ponies.
His time working there had a significant impact in his future direction and aspirations.
“Wedderlie is a textbook, model farm with such admirable attention to detail. It is such a credit to John, Marion and daughter Wanda.
“To have been involved in such a productive and efficient farm business has given me a fantastic foundation of practical knowledge to build on and implement at home.”
“I had a real sense of feeling a part of the family, which helped enormously in creating the ideal work placement environment.”
Joe was offered an Angus heifer by Wedderlie in recognition of his performance during his placement, which enabled him to establish his own herd.
He then went on to buy eight in-calf pedigree Aberdeen-Angus heifers from them, which arrived at the farm in October 2015 and have since calved in March/April this year.
This spring he bought the bull Wedderlie Black Naldo from the family and it was turned-out to the Angus first-calvers and Welsh Black cows on June 1.
“I was so impressed with the Angus Wedderlie cattle, with their ease of calving and tremendous growth rates.
“The quality of the cow’s feet and udders were superb. I was also impressed with the ethos of the Aberdeen-Angus Society and feel they have done a tremendous job promoting the breed.
“I have therefore established my own Aberdeen-Angus herd under the prefix Eyarth and have high hopes for the future.”
Since winning the Agricultural Student of the Year award, Joe has met and made new contacts in the industry, written for the Guardian newspaper online promoting a degree in agriculture, and told his story on the popular Welsh TV programme Ffemio, on S4C.
He says: "To win such a prestigious award was both an honour and a privilege.
"It was such an incredible evening; it really overwhelmed me.
"The contestants' stories were truly inspirational.
"I think it's safe to say the future of British agriculture is in safe hands."
Open to agricultural students studying in the UK, the award recognises those who have shown their determination and self motivation for agriculture and student life.
If you would like to nominate a student, simply enter the details of the individual you feel should be considered.
To enter for the award, visit www.britishfarmingawards.co.uk
Harper Adams University
Joe’s main focus since returning home has also been improving the land, aiming to reseed 40 acres this year and investing heavily in lime and fertiliser to raise the pH, P and K indexes.
“To be honest it’s been manic – everything seems to be happening at once. I’ve generally been trying to improve all aspects of the farm to become a productive and efficient business, starting from the soil.”
Joe also co-runs their Section B Eyarth Stud alongside his mother after she started it as a hobby.
The ponies are now an important part of the farm business and have been sold to countries all over Europe, as well as Australia, the US and Canada.
“We try to compete at a handful of shows each season for enjoyment and to promote our stock. We sell most ponies as weaned foals. I deal with the sales as more and more enquiries seem to be come via Facebook and the website,” says Joe, who is a life member of the Welsh Pony and Cob Society.”
One of Joe’s key challenges is labour, with his parents having passed retirement age.
“It does make it difficult to get away as I am tied to the farm, especially being an only child.
“At the moment the business cannot justify employing additional labour but we may do sometime in the future.
“But I consider myself incredibly fortunate to return home at such a young age to run the family farm.
“My parents are and always have been supportive of my ideas and new ventures. They were adamant I go to Harper Adams but struggled to keep farming until I finished my course.
I am forever grateful to them and could never thank them enough for all they have done for me.
However, they still have no plans of retiring and are almost just as busy. At least I can now relieve them of the manual work and hard slog.”
Prior to university, Joe was an avid member of his local YFC club and, while he stopped temporarily during his studies, he has rejoined the community and participates when time allows.
Looking forward, Joe plans to continue improving the grassland and use it better.
“I hope to produce Aberdeen-Angus breeding bulls to sell to commercial farmers.
"I’d love to prove to North Wales’ farmers an Angus bull can produce calves with excellent conformation which calve without any trouble and grow like mushrooms. It’s very much a Limousin, Charolais, British Blue area.
“I plan to implement performance recording of our cattle and sheep as I feel it is critical for the improvement of livestock farming.
“The beef and sheep sector fall behind other agricultural sectors, such as dairy, pigs and poultry, in terms of efficiency and profitability.
“As an industry, we must achieve uniformity of produce and strive to continually improve and become more productive.
“We need to ensure we have better ewe scanning percentages and enhance our lamb growth rates. I feel recording data is the best way of achieving this, as it is an incredibly useful management tool.”
Although his university days are behind him, Joe’s passion for education is still in abundance and he hopes to become involved in the Harper Cymru Alumni to promote the university to prospective students.
“Agricultural students are vital. The agricultural industry is forever changing.
"Ag students are the future and a degree in agriculture is so diverse.
“Farming is becoming more and more difficult to make a living from and it’s also an ageing occupation, with the average UK farmer now aged 59.
“In my opinion, further education is critical for young farmers.
"My course’s modules, such as agricultural business development, were incredibly useful in teaching me how to put business plans together, calculate gross margins and forecast cashflow – all of which are essential skills for the modern farmer.
“We also need to ensure people outside of farming are encouraged to enter the industry. A degree in agriculture is the perfect foundation. Their fresh perspective can only be healthy.
“Given guidance, we can hopefully grow and develop our industry for the better.”
Joe Parry threw himself into more than just his studies at Harper Adams University.