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Welsh lamb farmers link up for a meat deal with M&S.

Byline: By Steve Dube Western Mail

The future looks brighter for the group of young Welsh farmers who gathered at the former home of Wales Rural Affairs Minister Elin Jones last week. They have an eight-month contract to supply 200 lambs a week to Marks & Spencer and valuable business experience to face the future.

The farm at Tynllyn, Llanwnnen is now the home of 35-year-old Geraint Williams, his wife Kim and their 18-month-old son Rhys.

They bought the 114-acre holding from Ms Jones's parents six years ago, and her father, John Jones, still walks through the fields to lend a hand with the work.

Geraint is one of 16 farmers - with an average age 32 and all living within 20 miles of each other in south Ceredigion and north Carmarthenshire - who collaborated to secure the contract with the high street food retailer.

"There were nine of us at the start who got together to think about what we could do to get a better price for our lambs," said Geraint, who has 300 breeding ewes, including some pedigree Texels, and a growing herd of pedigree Belgian Blue cattle.

They formed an Agrisg'p group at Lampeter, under the Farming Connect development programme, and embarked on a series of face-to-face meetings with retailers with help from Huw Davies of the Welsh-medium enterprise agency Menter a Busnes.

"A lot of work has gone into it and it's worked out well, and I think this is the direction that farming has to go now. We need to know where we stand," said Geraint, who supplements his farm income with a sheep scanning enterprise, shearing and other farm contract work.

Under the deal with Marks & Spencer the farmers know exactly where they stand, with a guaranteed price that is well above current livestock market returns.

The retailer pledged this year to pay pounds 2.40 per kilogramme deadweight, with an extra 35p for farmers who achieve specific weight and specification and who meet additional social, environmental and animal welfare benefits.

The lambs are slaughtered at Dunbia in Llanybydder and packed at Cross Hands to become the only lamb on sale in the 17 M&S stores in Wales.

"We learnt a lot from all of this," said another of the group, Sulwyn Jenkins from Capel Cynon.

He works as a carpenter and contractor as well as farming 50 acres. He and his partner Nicola have two children, Ela, aged six and Tim, three, with another child on the way. We know exactly what M&S want and can hopefully deliver a better product and the beauty of it is that we can plan," he said. We don't have to sell too early or too late because we're worried about market prices. We can sell just at the right time."

M&S agriculture manager Rob Cumine recalled meeting the group for the first time in a pub and being told "we can do it cheaper than New Zealand".

He said, "This is a unique group that has achieved a fair amount and set an example for others to follow. Next year I hope to get a 12-months supply and a contract right through the year.

"If we can encourage others to follow in these guys footsteps, and offer young farmers some sort of incentive to stay and get involved in agriculture, it would be a big help to us as retailers."

Elin Jones said she was delighted that her childhood home was part of such an excellent venture. "This is exactly the way that I as a Minister and as a member of a farming family want to see agriculture develop in Wales - making connections between primary producers and retailers," she said. "Too many farmers feel their product is the lambs they produce and not the fact that people end up eating it.": M&S lamb-not just any lamb:There can be no doubt where the lamb in Marks and Spencer's 17 Welsh stores comes from. It carries the Red Dragon flag, bears the three feathers symbol of the Prince of Wales and even the name of the individual farmer who produced it.

The three feathers testify to the support the initiative has earned from the Prince of Wales.

The Prince's Trust was inspired by the enterprising efforts of the 16 farmers to arrange work placements for disadvantaged young people on their farms in partnership with Coleg Sir G--r.

"The placements mean that not only can the farmers help other young people on their way to a career in farming but they'll also have the chance to enthuse the next generation of agricultural workers with their collaborative spirit and entrepreneurship," said Wales Rural Affairs Minister Elin Jones.

Rob Cumine of M&S said the social aspect of the initiative was an added attraction for the retailer.

"What we liked about this group of farmers was their absolute commitment to supplying the best quality lamb possible," he said. "If we get the product right, then that's half the battle. The second half is paying a fair price to farmers."
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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Nov 13, 2007
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