By Debbie James

A Welsh dairy farmer says producer organisations allow milk suppliers control in a sector in which they are largely price-takers.

Abi Reader supplies Muller on a Sainsbury’s aligned contract. That supply agreement was previously with Dairy Crest, the first processor in the UK to have a producer organisation.

Abi, who farms with her parents, John and Jennifer, and her uncle, Robert, says the organisation gives farmers a strong voice.

“We were represented by people we could trust and there was one strong message getting to the guys at the top.

“A lot of our success came from the calibre of the people who were representing us, it was integral to the dialogue between the supplier and the buyer.’’

Abi’s family farm in the Vale of Glamorgan is positioned in a geographically strong location, close to the M4, to centres of population and dairy processing facilities.

The business was one of the fortunate few to be spared calamitous milk price lows during the recent downturn; the price she receives for her milk is set according to the average cost of production across all Sainsbury’s suppliers.

“It has kept us on a level profile, when the price has gone down ours has been stable. But equally, when it has gone up, we haven’t experienced the same price spike.’’

Price stability was influential in the Readers securing a bank loan during the downturn to build new housing facilities for the herd; this will ultimately allow them to increase cow numbers, from the current 190 Holsteins and Dairy Shorthorns to 230.

The development of the 122-cow cubicle shed and additional dry cow facility follows recent investment in a 20/20 parlour with full electronic ID and feed to yield technology.

In the 1990s, the herd had been predominately Holstein but, after one of the few remaining Dairy Shorthorns at Goldsland Farm won a top award at the Royal Show, the family decided to re-established the pedigree Wenvoe herd.

The Shorthorns at Goldsland Farm currently produce an average annual milk yield of 7,600 litres and the Holsteins 8,800 litres but where the Shorthorns really score is longevity. They mostly remain in the herd for six lactations but some are in their 10th lactation.

At 3.9 per cent, the milk fat percentage is the same for both the Shorthorns and the Holsteins while the protein level in the milk from the Shorthorns is 3.4 per cent and 3.3 per cent in the Holsteins.

The Readers farm 800 acres, assisted by two full-time and four part-time staff.

In addition to the milking herd, there is a flock of 120 mainly Poll Dorset ewes and the farm supplies beef calves to the Wales YFC Integrated Beef Scheme; it was one of the first farmer suppliers to the scheme.

“It is a great initiative and we are very pleased to be a part of it,’’ says Abi.

The business also has an arable enterprise of 160 acres of cereals, 70 acres of maize and horse haylage.

In common with every farmer in Wales, Abi says there are uncertainties going forward as the UK prepares to leave the European Union but whether those are positive or negative remain to be seen.

Abi is a firm believer in the Single Market and, as such, voted to remain in Europe.

With the result of the referendum decided, the industry must now work together to secure the best deal it can, she says.

“We have really got to nail the right trade deal; the future of the industry is wholly reliant on getting a good deal. We need to keep hammering home the message that NFU Cymru and others are giving out every day until people get sick of hearing it.’’

As the 2016 NFU Cymru/Principality Building Society Wales Woman Farmer of the Year, Abi has been invited to speak at a number of events and has embraced the opportunity to promote the industry.

“I feel so strongly that we need to promote ourselves as an industry and it has been a real privilege to have the opportunity to share my views with others.’’