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Feature 10 December 2013


Country’s top beef farmer shares secrets of success

Focus on cost control and herd health helps scoop top accolade

and forCarmarthenshire beef farmer Philip Jones thatmeans sticking to organic production when manyfarmers are switch- ing to conventional systems. Philip questions if those who are


abandoning organic farming have done their sums. “If they can justify fertiliser at

£300 atonne then Imust be doing something wrong,” said Philip,of Lan Farm, CynwylElfed. But it is evident thatheisdoing something very right as he has been named 2013 beef farmer of the year in the Farmers WeeklyAwards. “As an organic producer Ihave

twosets of potential buyers when I take my cattle to the market,” he said. “I would like to knowwhy farm-

ers are going out of organic,isit because of profit or is it due to paperwork? If it is down to paper- work then they need to think again as paperwork goes hand in hand with all systems. “If asystem isn’t profitablethe

problem lies with the farmer.Ifthey are not making aprofitthey have to think about changing their ways.” Philip farms a172ha upland farm

near CynwylElfed, running a110- head block-calving suckler herd of

TISoften said thatakey to success is to do the opposite of whateveryone else is doing,

By Debbie James

Welsh Blackcross Limousincows put to high-index Charolais bulls. “In terms of numbers we are

small, butasmall familyfarm can still be profitable,”hesaid. He keeps akeen eyeoncost con-

trol, butthe one area he won’t com- promise is herd health and perform- ance.

Herd fertility has been improved

massivelybyutilising technology and pioneering automated heat detection. In the last four years,the herd’s calving index has been reduced from409 to 377 days. “The days of guessing are over.I question everything, question where Imight be going wrong and I look forsolutions,” said Philip. He places greatemphasis on herd

health and has adopted acompre- hensive health plan thatheputs into practice at every possible level. Theherd is part of theSACPremi-

umCattle health scheme and is vac- cinated forBVD and pneumonia. The tag-and-test system is used in newborn calves to identify animals persistentlyinfected withBVD. Philip has made greatstrides to streamline input costs and fine-tune performancefromthe beef business and as aconsequence his gross mar- gins have improved by £22,000.

HIGH STANDARDS: Philip Jones does not compromise on herd health and performance. “We have achieved this not

through output, butbyfocusing on our input,” he said. “I keepaclose eyeoncost. There

are other people who are tighter than me and get better deals,but this doesn’t mean they are better at running their businesses.” Good grassland management is at

the heart of the system at Lan Farm. There is aconcerted effort within

the constraints of organic produc- tion to promote forage quality. Philip has reseeded leyswith new

varieties and also introduced red clover into asimple crop rotation to feed youngstock.PandKlevels have been optimised, alongside the strategic use of lime and manure to boost soil fertility and support high- yielding crops. “We are more or less self suffi-

PICTURE: Debbie James.

cient in protein,” said Philip. At the beginningofevery winter a

nutritionist visits the farm to take silage samples and to look at the stock. “I need to knowthatweare feed-

ing the animals the right nutrients. It sounds sillyfor an organic beef farmer who doesn’t feed concen- trates to have anutritionist in, butI am afirm believer in getting inde- pendent advice.Sometimes they will tell youthings youdon’t like or don’t want to hear,but Ialwayslis- ten to their advice and I’m not afraid of experimenting.” Philip runs the farm by himself

and contracts out work, including silage harvesting and slurry spread- ing.

Aturning point forhis business

wasthe ending of headage pay- ments. “It wasone of the best things that

could have happened as Iwas struc- turing the business around live- stocknumbers,basicallyIwas farm- ing the wrong wayaround by put- ting headage before cowquality,” he recalled. Philip admits he still makes mis-

takes,but regards them as part of a learning process.Hehas gained a vast amount of knowledge since becomingaHybuCig Cymru -Meat PromotionWales and Farming Con- nect demonstration farm. “My philosophyistoleave the

HEALTHY PRIORITY: Philip Jones’ herd is part of the SAC Premium Cattle health scheme and is vaccinated for BVD and pneumonia.

PICTURE: Debbie James.

things thatare going right alone and to concentrate on the things thatare going wrong. In my case it washerd health thatneeded improving so I concentrated on thatand things have improved immensely.”

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