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    Future is Different
27/10/06

The theme was 'Trading For the Future', and the message resonating throughout the Future Farmers of Wales Conference was that farmers had to establish a point of difference.  The signals for success came from both sides of the farm gate and from an independent Succession Facilitator.

farmland

The conference, held at the Royal Welsh Showground, heard from Huw Davies, farmer and Agrisgop Facilitator, and from Rob Cumine, Marks and Spencer Agriculture Specialist.  They and Sian Bushell each spoke of the need to respond pro-actively in changing times.

Huw Davies said the example of Dolaucothi National Trust Lamb  showed farmers could establish a marketing 'difference' to create a supermarket 'must have' and rise to the challenge of the Mid Term Review.  He warned that its implemention will result in farmers having to get more of their returns from the market place.  Therein lay the challenge!

"Are farmers working out what the costs of production are?, he questioned.  "We need to encourage them to do that.

"And added to that there are the problems of transparency.  The taxpayer is more aware of the lump sum coming into farmers' pockets.  The public perception is of the money we are getting from the Government in order to farm".

But Mr Davies said that change gave people options.  They could: get bigger or more efficient; get another income; get together; or get out.   The option chosen should be thought out and structured.

He added that the industry could be proud of its core values, but what brought in the money was how the produce was marketed.  And he added that the public needed to be made more aware of the farmer's contribution to the environment.

Farmers should take advantage of the help available and create opportunities.  He explained that Agrisgop was a specialist development programme to help farming families who wished to develop new business opportunities.

A major success had been the launch of Dolaucothi Estate National Trust Lamb, organised by a group of farmers in Pumsaint, Carmarthenshire and mentored by Agrisgop. They had convinced the supermarkets that they had something they needed and that it couldn't be bought anywhere else.

"We need to grasp the industry by the scruff of its neck and take it forward", he added.  "We need to sharpen up our marketing, and spend more money on educating the consumer".

The Brecknock Hill Cheviot success story was also an example of pointing up the difference, cited by Marks and Spencer Agriculture Specialist Rob Cumine.  He said the project had arisen from a phone call by a producer explaining that this was a product Marks and Spencer had to have in its stores.

The collaboration between the retailer and farmers was a fine example of 'walking the food chain' with farmers visiting stores and consumers' questions being relayed to them.  And Marks and Spencer involved itself with production, and offered incentives such as a cup presented at the Royal Welsh.

"It's working and part of the big step has been co-ordination", he said.  "The farmers are realising that they are part of something.

"We need to know when and how many lambs will be supplied at the start of the season.  We want a certain number each week. The producers have taken that on board, there is collaboration, and the result is that the 1200 lambs sold in 2002 has risen to 10,000 last year".

Rob Cumine who is originally from Pembrokeshire, said a new venture had been launched at the Royal Welsh.  Welsh Black beef had replaced Aberdeen Angus in all the Welsh stores.

And to highlight the crucial importance of marketing, he played a seductive food advert which had led to an extra 170 animals a week being sold.  He urged the Future Farmers not to aspire to be average, to communicate, to look outside their businesses.

Sian Bushell's mission in life is to iron out the differences and help to correct a situation where one in four farming families are not speaking to one of the family members because of succession issues.

"It's really sad personally, for the business, for the industry, and because rural society needs the family farm", she said.

"People think succession is a problem, but it's a fantastic opportunity for each individual.  It can use their assets, their experience and wisdom.  It's a business opportunity".

But Sian Bushell, who trained in Australia, warned that there had to be an orderly succession with all aspects and aspirations fully aired beforehand.  Her role is to act as an independent facilitator at a family meeting so that underlying issues can be aired and resolved.

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