There's black gold in the Welsh hills; MARKET REPORTS After 10 years at the helm of the Welsh Black Cattle Society (WBCS), chief executive Andrew James takes a look back at the breed's achievements.
THERE is something rather special about Welsh Black Cattle. Not just because it is Wales' native breed, but it is the ultimate bovine - suited to all types of farming and terrain.
Ten years ago, when I joined the WBCS as marketing officer, the beef industry was still recovering from the BSE crisis.
It was a difficult time for producers and I was charged with delivering the pounds 490,000 5b Breed Development Project.
The initial three-year project focused on genetics. Welsh Black cattle and its beef are often referred to as Black Gold and thus its potential for progress, I believed, was 100-fold.
Once semen from Welsh Black bulls became available, a consignment of nearly 700 ampoules from three bulls were exported to Welsh Black cattle breeders in Alberta, Canada. At home WBCS members also benefited from the choice of genetics available.
Before joining the society I was an artificial inseminator and sales officer with South Wales Breeders. Thus I was delighted when, as part of the project in 2000, Bardsey Island's Welsh Blacks were inseminated from two chosen sires to improve the herd.
The importance of the 5b project was soon evident. As a result the society secured a two-year pounds 740,000 extension, this time incorporating herd health testing.
The second project, from 2000 onwards, began with a 20-farm pilot health scheme focussing primarily on Johne's Disease, but also on three other important diseases - Infectious Bovine Rhinotraechotis (IBR), Bovine Viral Diarrhoea (BVD) and Leptospirosis.
It has been so successful that there are now 267 herds taking part as members of the Premium Cattle Health Scheme. Sixteen herds are now accredited free of all four diseases, achieving elite herd health status.
Next the society turned its attention to supporting and promoting Organic Welsh Black cattle.
During the Royal Welsh Winter Fair 2001 the society's patron, the Prince of Wales, launched a three year project funded by the Welsh Development Agency.
This resulted in 70 active Welsh Black members receiving support and advice on Organic Welsh Black beef production.
When I took over as chief executive in 2002, the ramifications of the FMD outbreak were still evident.
The importance of the society as a point of information and support was enhanced by the introduction of annual county meetings, including two in England, which continue to generate plenty of interest.
In 2003 the Carlisle sale - the only society sale outside Wales - was reinstated after an absence of four years.
This was a great opportunity for the breed whose multiple traits are ideal for farmers residing in the Scottish Borders and Northern Ireland.
The past five years has seen an improved cattle sale trade with demand for cattle continually growing. Before the end of 2007 the society is hoping to celebrate its 1,000th member joining.
As we look to next year's second Welsh Black Society World Conference in Australia, the future looks promising for Wales' only native breed.
In May 2007 the society exported 18 Welsh Black heifers and a bull to Denmark. At the same time two breeding bulls were exported to Germany after a 17-year cattle export embargo.
Much has been achieved in 10 years and still more lies on the horizon. There are opportunities and challenges at every turn - as the current FMD outbreak proves.
Andrew James, chief executive of the Welsh Black Cattle Society