For most people working the land, farming isn’t just a job: it’s a way of life. And it’s a way of life steeped in tradition – with property handed down through generations, along with knowledge and wisdom about land and livestock.
One young farmer who’s aware of those traditions, but not afraid of breaking from them, is 26-year-old Peredur Owen, who recently won the 2019 Brynle Williams Memorial Award.
The award acknowledges Peredur’s success in the Welsh Government’s Venture programme, which supports people entering into shared farming agreements – including farmers, landowners, and new entrants.
Taking a business approach to farming
Peredur grew up on a beef and sheep farm in North Wales and has long had a passion for farming, but the route he’s taken to become a farmer in Carmarthenshire isn’t a well-worn one.
After studying agriculture at Harper Adams, with a year’s work placement in New Zealand, Peredur was working as an agriculture development officer at Dunbia.
In 2018, he spotted a farm share opportunity advertised by Farming Connect’s venture program and rural law firm, Agri Advisors. It saw him go into a joint venture with a landowner looking for a partner in her 500-acre share farming enterprise near Llandovery.
The share farming arrangement means Peredur can view the enterprise without rose-coloured glasses. “I’ve had a chance to approach this opportunity with a strong business mentality.”
“I’m confident that our scenario and model will be a success, although if it doesn’t work I’ll have to go and reevaluate and adapt the business because basically, I won’t make enough money to live.”
It’s an approach he first saw in New Zealand, working on a large scale beef and sheep farm on the north island.
“There’s a lot less romance there. Unless it makes business sense, you sell the farm and go try it somewhere else,” he explains.
“In the UK, it’s all family farms, and there’s a lot of history and emotion. That’s a good thing, but it could cloud your judgment as well.”
Transforming the enterprise for profits
Peredur and the property owner have made hard-headed decisions, to drive down costs and increase the farm’s profitability. That has involved moving on from the traditional suckler enterprise.
“Myself and the owner I share farm with decided that the sums weren’t adding up, there wasn’t enough money to be made,” he says.
“We’ve decided to keep younger and smaller cattle that are better equipped to convert our grass into weight gained. That will produce a better profit for us in the end.”
They’re also switching sheep breeds, trialling EasyCare sheep. “It loses its own wool, so it reduces the need to shear, reducing the labour cost of those ewes.”
Every management decision is made with the bottom line in mind.
A figure of opportunity
Something like 80% of what affects your farm happens within your farm gate… I’ve got much more pressing day-to-day things I could worry about, which is actually going to change my profit and loss figures at the end of the year.
There’s a lot of uncertainty about how the next few years will unfold for British agriculture. Peredur isn’t one to get caught up in predictions and punditry.
“There’s a figure – and I might be misquoting this – but something like 80 per cent of what affects your farm happens within your farm gate,” he says.
“I’ve got much more pressing day-to-day things I could worry about, which is actually going to change my profit and loss figures at the end of the year.”
Peredur sees the share farming arrangement as a safe way for people to get into an industry with a vibrant future. “There are huge opportunities,” he says. “It is tough, it’s not clean, but it can be good money if you’re willing to work. And there’s a sense of pride immediately, seeing what you’ve achieved.”