Last evening the Farmer & I attended a meeting in Narberth arranged by Simon Hart MP to discuss the state of the dairy industry with Stephen Crabb, the Minister of State for Wales, Neil Parrish MP, chairman of the all-party group on the dairy industry & Andy Richardson, chairman of the review into Wales's dairy industry. About a 100 dairy farmers from Carmarthenshire, Ceredigion & Pembrokeshire attended.
With the price of milk falling all the time it is felt that politicians, retailers, milk buyers and producers need to work out a system by which there is a fair price for all, but more particularly for the producers. Some dairy farms are selling milk for less than their production costs and this is often due to the contracts that they are tied into. The supermarkets are also greatly at fault when they use milk as a loss leader eg. Morrisons selling 2 litres (3.5 pints) for 84p. It is outrageous. Consumers have become used to being able to buy milk at a very low price and for many producers there is almost no option but to leave the industry if prices continue to drop, particularly for smaller family farms with little capital to invest in expansion.
We are a small family dairy farm; we farm just over 200 acres and milk 50 cows. As organic producers we get a slightly higher price than conventional farms for our milk but the organic sector is affected by price drops and current politics in the milk industry the same as all dairy farmers.
In England and Wales there are now just under 10,000 dairy farms(Farmers Guardian this week) which is a drop of 20,000 in 20 years. In Scotland there are only 900 dairy farms.
In Wales dairy is one of the largest farming sectors, about 34% of agricultural production by value, twice as high as the rest of the UK.
There was lot of comment during the meeting on how the supermarkets and the consumers have no respect for food. There is so little understanding of how food is produced and the hard work that goes into putting a pint of milk on the supermarket shelf. Education is the key, of course. Schools should be teaching food...bring back home economics and domestic science into the curriculum, teaching students what food is, how it is produced and how to cook well.
The politicians are aware of how the dairy industry is enduring this time of low prices and it will be interesting to see what they can do improve the situation.
With general election coming up in just over 5 months time will the present government have any time to make any real changes?
Another issue that I have become aware of lately is the threat to postal services for those of us in rural areas as has been expressed by the FUW , the Farmer's Union of Wales.
The FUW says that there are concerns that changes to the postal sector with adversely affect Wales' rural communities.
Wales has about 42,000 agricultural holdings of which 20,000 are said to be significant. As farmers we are subject ot strict legal requirements covering animal welfare, identification, movements, feed & food production and land management. Apparently the documentation relating to these legislative requirements results in approximately 3,000 pages of information a year that has to come to the farm. Much of the notifications require responses with strict deadlines and major financial penalties if these deadlines are not met. Paper correspondence is still important even though much of the paperchase has gone online (and has become more complicated and inefficient as a result) and many areas of Wales have limited broadband coverage. The maintenance of postal deliveries six days a week is vitally important...to bring us our 3,000 pieces of paper telling us what we can and cannot do on the farm, or else!
Misty winter mornings are some of my favourite parts of the year & even more so when combined with frost. Today is such a morning. The mist has now lifted and we are enjoying blue skies and the silver glitter on the roofs is disappearing rapidly in the sunshine.
It is the beginning of December and the phrase 'Christmas is coming' has a somewhat threatening tone as the Christmas madness begins on the media and in the shops. As far as I'm concerned Christmas shouldn't really begin until the 24th (though the various small preparations in the week before are enjoyable) but my family see that as curmudgeonly and too Scrooge-like. It is at this time of year that I am more than usually glad we do not have television...the occasional glimpse of the hysterical madness especially on the children's tv is appalling...I sound like a grumpy Granny but what I mean is just keep the whole thing in perspective and don't indulge every wish of already over-indulged children. The small domestic, home-made aspects of Christmas are the most enjoyable not the brash, superficial tinsel of media driven excess. Gosh that sounds so priggish!! Actually, I love Christmas and every family has its own way of celebrating, so each to their own.
On the farming front we have had lot of calves born lately so there is a lot of milk being produced which is good, I think we are sending more milk than we have ever done. The milk tanker has just arrived and the driver has assured us that he will be coming on Christmas Day though maybe a little earlier than usual so that he can home for his Christmas lunch. Like we farmers many of the ancillary workers in the agricultural industry do not get a day off.
All the cattle are in and so the first half of each morning is spent feeding and bedding down. Once that is all done the Farmer & the Sons get on with good weather jobs such as hedge-trimming, and logging to get in the supply of firewood for the next couple years.
Most of the cattle are in for the winter though a few still graze in the somewhat soggy fields. Those that are in are fed silage each day and are bedded down with fresh straw. Feed barriers are the best way of feeding anumber of cattle at a time, each beast goes to a section and eats what it needs as as when it chooses. The smell of good silage and warm cattle is very evocative of winter on the farm
For some reason the Farmers's shadow, his working collie Mollie is being allowed into the kitchen these days and Dottie the terrier is somewhat miffed to find that Mollie can fit into her bed so is resigned to sharing though it is a tight fit.
Talking of dogs we lost our old labrador Poppy a couple of weeks ago. She was twelve and was suffering from liver failure. She had been a superb gun-dog and she & Younger Son whose dog she was, learnt everything together about beating and retrieving game. She was also a wonderful companion and the greediest dog imaginable which is quite something in the world of labradors!...her other name was Pig-dog! She was also Dottie the terrier's sofa, here they are in the summer both very comfortable in the sunshine.
Hawthorn berries gleaming like rubies in the almost bare hedgerows.
Yesterday the Farmer & I attended a meeting of dairy farmers who sell their milk to First Milk (www.firstmilk.co.uk). First Milk is farmer's co-operative and about 150 members from Wales attended the meeting held at Nant y Ffin (www.nantyffin.co.uk),LLandissilio in Pembrokeshire.
Chairing the meeting was Sir Jim Paice MP, chairman of First Milk & former minister of food.
The state of the dairy industry is fairly dire at present, not just in the UK but globally. Many farmers are being paid less than the cost of production for their milk and there is a drop in demand which has not been helped by the Russian embargo on UK dairy products. 2/3 of Europe's dairy produce was exported to Russia and without that market there is a massive over supply of milk & milk products in Europe. The price paid to dairy farmers is not going to improve until production and supply drops and demand goes up.
To reduce production is not a simple matter; when a dairy cow is put in calf the decision has been made for what happens with the cow in 5 years time when she will be in full milk production. Many farms are planning to expand but while the current low in the industry will eventually change, we all have to weather this difficult time. We are very fortunate that as organic producers things are are a little better in the organic sector but nonetheless the situation affects everyone in the dairy industry one way or another.
A final thought - 50,000 farmers & farm workers are employed on dairy farms in the UK. Next time you buy a pint of milk think about the many people involved in producing that pint.
For information on all things dairy see www.thisisdairyfarming.com.
This beautiful display of fungi was spotted on my walk with the dogs yesterday. I don't know what type of fungi they are but they are growing on the stump of a conifer and look just gorgeous, as lovely as any flowering plant in the garden.
Winter is definitely on its way... the Farmer & the Sons have spent the afternoon putting away the summer machinery. The mowers, tedders, balers & wrappers are now all neatly lined up in their shed for the winter, protected from the weather and out of the way of the farm activity over the next 6 months or so.
The Farmer has spent a lot of time lately processing firewood and we have a large shed now full of logs which is a most comforting & satisfying sight as the season gets cooler.
Today is the first really cold day we've had so far, the tweed coats were donned and gloves found to be necessary. There was a sharp-edged wind up in the top fields today which is very different to the too warm weather of last week which was all wrong for the end of October. The autumn is looking lovely with a number of trees retaining their russet golden leaves despite the strong winds of the last few days. We've also had heavy rain and the streams around the farm are now running well again after having almost dried up over the summer. As we are not on mains water it always good to see the streams running as it means that the underground springs that feed our water tanks are also running well. In a dry summer such as we have just had water does become a bit of an issue. We do have to be careful in our usage of water and the cows do have to take priority...they need about 10 gallons each a day, plus all the water required for washingthe milking parlour & dairy and the cooling of the milk. Wales is known for its rainfall but even here we have to be aware of how much or little we have at times.
The cottage has now had its redecoration all done and everything put back in its place...so it is all looking very spruce & smart. The warm pink of the walls of the sitting-room works well giving an air of cosiness and with two sofas and the wood-burning stove is just the place for relaxing and enjoying a peacedful country holiday.
Plug over, now onto other stuff!
Yesterday the Farmer & I went to the delightful small town of Narberth in Pembrokeshire for a meeting held in the Plas Hyfryd Hotel by OMSCo (www.omsco.co.uk) the organic milk buyer who, with First Milk (www.firstmilk.co.uk) sells our milk to whoever needs it.
It was a good meeting with the usual group of attendees (& only 3 wives) in which the chaps from OMSCo explained the current market regarding the organic milk industry. OMSCo is the largest organic milk buyer in the country and supplies organic milk to many retailers and manufacturers of organic products. A very exciting developemnet for the co-operatve is the huge success of Kingdom Cheese in the States. This is an organic cheddar-type cheese that is produced solely for the American market & is proving very popular over the pond. It has just won three gold awards in the International Cheese Awards held in Nantwich, Cheshire recently which will give it even greater attraction to American cheese buyers. It seems the demand for organic cheese in the States outstrips supply hence OMSCo being able to promote a British made organic cheese there.
Although Kingdom Cheese is not available in the UK we have been given samples of it and it is very good.
Tomorrow sees the the first shoot of the season for the Farmer & Younger Son. They are busy sorting out guns, cartridge, thorn-proof clothing and making sure the dogs are in fine fettle for a good first day. The weahter should be quite kind to them though even it is raining stair-rods they still all seem to have a wonderful time.
I shall be spending the day, or the morning at least doing a changeover in the cottage. We have had a delightful Lancashire farmer & his wife staying for 3 nights having come down to collect their Jack Russell puppy from us. If prosepctive dog owners are prepared to travel so far then I am always confident that the puppy will be going to an excellent home.
The Jack Russell puppies are now 7 weeks old and utterly delightful. We have homes for all but two dogs. They are such fun but very naughty and have learnt to make their way upto the house from their cosy nest in an out building. I have to take a very circuitous route up a set of steps to escape them when taking the big dogs for a walk otherwise they attempt to follow & while having trail of very tiny puppies when walking through the fields is terribly sweet it is also very trying as they can't keep up and get tired and I cannot possibly carry them all!
The past week has been taken up with the end of season sprucing up of the holiday cottage. This year I employed a friend to paint the main rooom & kitchen which involves high ladders and painting of beams...a job I have always hated so it was great to have someone else do it. I have also changed some of the furnishings, replacing pieces that had become rather shabby. The cottage works very hard as a building, constantly, though inadvertantly, battered by the ever changing inhabitants. I am always touching-up paintwork where it has been chipped by suitcases bashing against walls.
I've also replaced the china & the Farmer has fixed up new lights in the kitchen area over the cooker which were much needed. It is all looking very clean and fresh now, ready for out next guests who arrive next week.
We had some very dramatic weather last week, a whole day & night of thunder & lightening..the thunder was incredible, the whole of this solid old stone house shook at time and windows rattled in their frames fairly constantly. There was much damage reported locally to telephones, computer & internet connections. We came off quite lightly but Elder Son lost his phone and internet. Some of our neighbours have only had their phones reconnected today!
A beautiful 35 minute film following the River Teifi from the air with a sound track of Welsh folk music, poetry & narrative made by the Teifi Valley Tourism Association, an independent group of owners of holiday accommodation, artists & craftspeople living in the Teifi Valley.
Full-time farmers-wife, cook, laundress, gardener, meeter-&-greeter, mobile gate, answerphone service & bibliophile.
Have lived for over 25 years on a 140 acre organic dairy farm in the Welsh hills, with fiddle-playing farmer husband and two sons.
We host farm walks for schools and any other interested parties and have farm open days and are passionate about educating people on where their food comes from and the importance of the countryside.
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Telephone; 01559 370341
Sleeps 4 Wood-burning stove Welcome basketof goodies Logs, electricity, bedlinen & towels included in price Internet access Natural spring water Beautiful views Only 30 minutes from beaches One well behaved dog welcome (£20 per week) Short Breaks available- 3 nights £170
A delightful gypsy wagon on an organic farm in West Wales.
Cabin with kitchen, shower-room & wood-burning stove.
Camping with a difference. http://www.oldoakgypsywagon.co.uk/
As Seen on TV
Penyrallt has been used as a film location on a number occasions for feature films & television productions. 1993Tan ar y Comin / A Christmas ReunionStarring James Coburn & Edward Woodward Directed by David Hemmings & Carol Byrne-Jones. Saban / Y Wennol (Wales) 1996-1999Yr Palmant Aur A Welsh language period drama. Opus TV / S4C (Wales)
1999A Two Way JourneySolo Spot Produciones. (Spain) 2007Y Ty Cymraeg A Welsh language programme about Welsh architecture presented by Dr Greg Stevenson. S4C Cwpwrdd DilladA Welsh language programme about Welsh fashion design. The designs of Adam Marc James were photographed at Penyrallt. S4C
2011Rhod Gilbert's Work Experience; Series 2 - FarmerStand-up comedian Rhod Gilbert trys his hand at farming. BBC One Wales/Presentable TV BBC Two. 2012 Mud MenSeries 3Episode; Blackwall Johnnie Vaughan& Steve Brooker