As a third generation beef and sheep producer, Richard Isaac understands the value in nurturing Wales’ future farmers.
At 61, retirement is on Richard’s mind and it presents an opportunity to draw his sons, Daniel and Mathew, into the business.
In recent years he has taken on more land away from the main holding at Mynachdy Farm, in the village of Ynysybwl, near Pontypridd. The farming enterprise is now large enough to support additional incomes.
Richard plans to make Daniel and Mathew joint head of holding which means they can access funding from the Welsh Government’s Young Entrants Support Scheme (YESS) at a time when significant investment is needed to upgrade the lambing shed and cattle housing.
A succession of poor winters has highlighted a need for additional shelter; YESS will enable the Isaacs to accelerate those projects.
The scheme offers grant aid of up to £15,000 for capital schemes on farms run by young entrants and a network of mentors also delivers guidance and support.
“Every farmer thinks about the next project and the support scheme makes it possible for new entrants like me to make that investment,’’ says 35-year-old Mathew.
The scheme is open to people under the age of 40. To be eligible they must have adequate skills and competence in agriculture and either be setting up as head of the holding for the first time or have done so in the last 12 months.
Mathew is also planning to create additional income by extending the barn conversion he shares with his wife, Leanne, and baby daughter, Annabelle, on the farm. They plan to build another bedroom to enable them to run a bed and breakfast business.
Mathew received 80% funding through Farming Connect for consultant fees to help him prepare a business plan and financial appraisal. Under the Whole Farm Plan he is entitled to eight days subsidised consultancy.
The diversification will be a useful source of income to Mathew when he and his brother join the business.
The Isaacs own 245 acres of land and rent a further 260 acres – 110 through a Farm Business Tenancy and 150 on an annual rental agreement.
A thousand ewes form the main enterprise. Half the flock are Welsh Mountain Nelson-type ewes and the remainder are Texel-cross Welsh Mountain ewes. There is also a flock of 40 pedigree Texel ewes which the Issacs use to breed their own rams.
The ewes are fed home-grown oats mixed these with protein pellets. The ewes lamb in March – the flock scanned at 157% last year - and all the lambs are sold fat from July through to the end of January. The majority are sold to Waitrose and some are sold to Tesco to be marketed under its ‘Welsh Finest’ brand. All the ewe rams are retained as potential replacements.
For the last five years, the Isaacs have utilised Electronic Identification in the flock. They use it to keep records, including mortalities and medical details. They now plan to use the performance data to make breeding decisions. “I can’t imagine going back to using pen and paper,’’ said Richard. “EID is really handy for keeping medication records, it lets us know what we have left in stock.’’
A Chinese delegation of 20 farmers, vets, agricultural advisers and government officials saw this system first hand when they recently visited the farm during a trip organised by the Welsh Government. Wales has its sights set on China as a future export market. “The group was very interested in our breeding system, the visitors were very keen to know how our lambs are reared and the measures we took to ensure the flock received the best possible welfare,’’ says Richard.
The Isaacs also runs a Welsh Black suckler herd. At 20 months, the calves are sold to a farmer in Powys who then finishes the animals for Waitrose. The herd calves outdoors in April and May. In an average season the herd would be fed silage from October but wet conditions this winter meant that silage had to be fed from September 5th.
It is a priority at Mynachdy Farm to grow as much feed as possible as this keeps costs low. In addition to high sugar grasses and winter fodder crops, the Issacs also grow 20 acres of oats.
Both Mathew and Daniel have completed crop-spraying courses, one on the safe use of pesticides and the other on correct use of a boom sprayer. Both courses were 80% funded through the Farming Connect programme.
“The funding was very important, it was certainly an encouragement for us to sign up to these courses,’’ says Mathew.
Mynachdy Farm, which lies in a severely disadvantaged area, has been farmed within Tir Gofal for several years but when that scheme ends this year the Isaacs will apply to join Glastir.
It is an exciting time for the business. Although Richard will still very much be involved in the farm he is looking forward to stepping back a little from the day to day running and letting Daniel and Mathew take greater responsibility. He will be able to concentrate more on his role as NFU council delegate for Glamorgan.
“We had to make sure there was a living wage for them here before they became more involved in the farm. The YESS scheme has certainly helped with their plans going forward and the other support we have had from Farming Connect has been very important also,’’ says Richard.