Drive, determination, a sharp mind and a thirst for learning have undoubtedly helped 24-year-old farmer Gwen Price establish her own roots in farming. Gaina Morgan finds out more.
Making the most of opportunities and experiences put her way have undoubtedly stood Gwen Price in good stead to date.
Her steady progress, studying for her BSc in agriculture and her Masters, while working full-time for Wynnstay, has won her awards and opportunities.
Gwen, who is the Farming Connect Young Learner for 2019, took full advantage of the Welsh Government Young People into Agriculture scheme 2018 award alongside the Agri Academy Business and Innovation Programme in 2019 and also spent a month in New Zealand in 2017.
She now farms in her own right and works as a Farming Connect development officer, but there is little doubt that her education and experiences to date have been honed by the farming skills she picked up on the home farm at Llangadog, west Wales, where she grew up as the youngest of four, her three elder brothers being triplets.
There her parents, Alun and Eileen, farm sheep and beef on 65 hectares (160 acres) at about 120 metres (400 feet) above sea level. She was involved from a young age and has gradually taken on more responsibilities, including the home farm records, farm VAT and finance. One of her brothers, Dyfan, farms 45ha (110 acres) with mountain rights separately and while the others are pursuing other careers, the family work together at busy times, but each felt it better to run separate businesses.
For Gwen, this is a 20ha (50-acre) rented unit a 10-minute drive from home. Sitting at 130m (420ft) above sea level, here she runs a flock of 120 Suffolk and Speckled Face ewes and 48 ewe lambs. She also rears British Blue cross and Hereford cross calves to sell on, either as stores or in-calf heifers. The Young Entrance award provided £40,000 capital for fencing, reseeding and other vital work, which Gwen says changed everything completely.
“It gave me the best starting point I could possibly ask for,” she says. “Working had paid for my education throughout the years but starting a farming business was not an option before.”
The money was crucial, Gwen says, but the discipline imposed was also invaluable. Some of the information she had to provide the Welsh Government included a business plan, nutrient management plan, animal health plan, as well as Key Performance Indicators (KPI) records.
“You had to indicate with KPIs what I was doing with the grant value, which was paid in stages across three years,” she says. "I had to evidence the reseeding with invoices, geotagged images and targets.
“Other KPIs were buying equipment that was going to be beneficial. I bought an electronic lamb weigher so I can monitor weight gains weekly or every fortnight, providing me with evidence that, hopefully, lambs are gaining weight and what group of lambs are performing best.”
Mentoring, seminars and the networking involved with that process and the Agri Academy has also been pivotal to her progress, but this has also provided her with a mutually supportive friendship group, a ‘second family if you like’.
Gwen says: “Farming Connect funded up to 80 per cent of the cost for numerous courses, such as financial recording and understanding and using your accounts. Julie Thomas, at Simply The Best Training Consultancy, has been an inspiration.”
Her goal, she says, is to produce lambs and heifers as cost effectively and efficiently as possible, making the best of what she has rather than trying to expand acreage or stock numbers.
Gwen examines her cost of production in fine detail and produces lambs from a low cost system based on high quality forage. Reseeding involved a medium term lay based on tetraploid HRG, white clover and rape for a high energy, high protein forage.
“Last year I measured pasture cover [kg DM/ha] weekly during spring months, as it was linked in with my dissertation for my Masters,” she says.
"It was time-consuming, but I enjoyed it because I was measuring old and new pasture leys and seeing how effective each was when comparing the differences in cover during spring. The two fields were evaluated for pasture cover, along with soil and air temperatures which were recorded at both fields during that period. The fields were also soil tested.
“Working it out per hectare, the reseed could be grazed with more ewes than an old ley. It indicated that pasture cover in new reseed is more effective due to many factors, including a correct pH level. The old pasture did not have the quality, especially for young lambs when you want them to mature faster.”
Gwen’s lambs are sold to nearby Dunbia through the Wales YFC Lamb initiative. Geared at creating a sustainable supply chain, the scheme provides an extra £1/head if lambs are hitting the required scheme specifications.
The first batch of calves were also turned out on grass at eight months old for the first time in May this year, bought at a few weeks old from Carmarthen livestock mart.
Gwen says she will ‘take the risk’ of calving a few and sell some stores in October and November. Others will be sold as bulling heifers at 18 months old. Finishing cattle is not an option she feels is suitable for the farm and is not justified by the narrow margin.
It is a very long return, but Gwen considers that, having picked British Blue cross calves for their good conformation and Hereford cross calves for their growth, they will have the best chance of making a profit. And she is happy to learn from any early mistakes and to adjust as she progresses.
She says: “Over the next five years I will probably look to increase the ewes gradually by keeping on my own ewe lambs. For now, I want to concentrate more on rotational grazing and not having to buy-in any creep as well as cutting the amount that I have to buy during winter.”
Costs are the limiting factor as Gwen seeks to balance her farming ambition and her system. She would like to get more land, but only, she says, at the right price. Rents are currently about £257/ha (£104/acre) in her area and with so much doubt hanging over the future of agricultural, it is a difficult decision.
Farming is a life she loves, and she relishes the challenges in between the demands of her ‘day job’, advising farmers for Farming Connect.
“I have been given the opportunity to start my own farming business and I am keen to do all I can to farm efficiently and profitably, as I very much hope that one day I will be able run a larger flock.”