Supply chains and innovation in Wales

A vibrant group of Farmers Club members visited West Wales to investigate retail supply chains, on-farm innovations and diversification

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WALES without rain?  Hardly. So it was fitting for the Farmers Club tour to Carmarthenshire to arrive in a downpour! Fortunately, the sun soon appeared to accompany our visits to this fascinating area, culminating in amazing views of Dinefwr Park’s fine White Park cattle on the final day.  


Hosted by Club Chairman Tim Bennett and his wife Sue the tour used the historic Cawdor Arms Hotel in Llandeilo as its base, close to the River Towy, in the heart of one of the UK’s premier dairying regions, with a mild, wet climate favouring strong grass growth and a long grazing season.  


It was the Cawdor family who once owned a huge estate here and built nearby Geli Aur College to boost their tenants’ farming skills – and the area has been a hot bed of rural innovation ever since.


The Dolaucothi Lamb supply chain, delivering prime Welsh grass-fed lamb to Sainbury’s Taste the Difference range, via Dunbia’s state-of-the-art slaughterhouse and cutting plant at Llanybyther, the most advanced in Europe and probably the world, is just the latest example.


But with its zeal for nature and rural tourism the valley’s new dominant landowner, the National Trust, had brought great tension, new leases and strict guidelines marking an all-time low, noted local author Sir David Lewis, former chairman of City law firm Norton Rose and Lord Mayor of London in 2007, who noted the Towy valley’s long history of innovation, including a seven mile Roman aquaduct to aid gold mining and huge landholdings amassed by four local families in the 17th and 18th centuries.


Local farmer Huw Davies, a prime mover behind the Dolaucothi supply chain farms 600 NZ Highlander easy-care ewes with his wife Sheila at 280 acre Fferm Llandre, Pumsaint. He echoed the frustration with the NT’s farming policy, suggesting years of hard work had been ‘shattered’.


But tension also inspires progress and NT head of food and farming Rob Macklin felt whole farm plans had helped drive the Dolaucothi project. After a period of less successful farmer relations newly appointed estate managers would help rebuild cooperation, he insisted.


Indeed, gatherings of key players around the kitchen table at Fferm Llandre frequently felt like Welsh farming’s frontline headquarters, noted Beth Hart, Sainsbury’s newly appointed head of agriculture, horticulture and sourcing, whose department was doubling in size to reflect the growing importance of food provenance.


Eight farms now supply Dolaucothi lamb from mid-August to early-December, when demonstrably superior flavour best justifies the premium price.  Data linking welfare and production standards to Dunbia’s sophisticated carcase and meat quality measurements and final retail sales was key to spurring each other on to meet the needs of consumers, and to releasing value for the whole supply chain, Ms Hart asserted. “The relationships and rapport really are very strong,” noted Dunbia group lamb commercial manager Barrie Jones.


Moving across the valley to the edge of the Brecon Beacons Bernard and Margaret Llewellyn have been adding value to farming by harnessing tourism since 1996. With the spectacular ruins of Carreg Cennen Castle in the centre of their land, a large oak-barn centre was built to cater for visitors, who now exceed 100,000 a year. The farm’s impressive Longhorn cattle feature in the quality meals served, as well as the self-carve centre-piece roasts for the extremely popular wedding venue.


Nearby Aberglasney heritage garden and house ( is a fine example of a visionary American benefactor funding the renaissance of a property dating back to mediaeval days when the cloistered gardens were thriving. Inspirational and enthusiastic director of operations Jospeh Atkin has created an amazing ninfarium for sub-tropical plants, the glass atrium spanning the ruined central rooms of the mansion, and helping to draw in 45,000 visitors a year and rising.


The National Trust’s Newton House in Dinefwr Park was a further venture profiting from tourism, its Dynevor herd of rare White Park cattle dating back to AD920 attracting huge interest with a #savetheherd campaign and £75,000 spent on winter housing to meet a year-round interest.


At Gelli Aur (Golden Grove) College is enjoying its own renaissance, as it works to meet an insatiable demand for well-qualified labour for the local rural economy, explained head of curriculum David Davies. Teaching is in three languages – English, Welsh and farming – to students drawing on a flexible portfolio of full-time, part-time, apprenticeship and work-based courses.


The traditional 600 cow spring and autumn calving NZ-style dairy unit, struggling in a severe TB hot-spot, is involved in potentially world-leading slurry innovation with Swansea-based water purification specialists Power and Water. If the farm-scale pilot plant proves successful the process could save Welsh farming estimated £50m/year, using a patented process of centrifugal separation, electro-coagulation and chemoxidation to produce stackable, spreadable nutrient-rich solids and fit-to-drink water, explained farm manager John Owen. 


As well as promoting lower-cost milk and meat from grass, the college is evaluating low-cost, low-labour feeding systems, and has also proposed a BVD strategy for Wales linked to TB testing, noted farm projects manager John Griffiths.


At a gala dinner at the Cawdor Arms guest speaker Andrew Slade, Welsh Government director of Agriculture, Marine, Environment and Forestry described Welsh Assembly plans to sustain a viable rural economy, attentively listened to honorary guests NFU President Meurig Raymond, Royal Welsh Agricultural Society assistant chief executive Aled Jones, Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution chairman Malcolm Thomas and BBC Good Morning Wales and Country Focus presenter Rachel Garside. A truly memorable and inspiring visit to wonderful West Wales!