By Debbie James

In common with many farm businesses across Wales, it has been a tough year for milk producer David Gravell.

Bought-in fodder to top up silage stocks depleted by the cold spring and dry summer and feeding a higher proportion of concentrates to maintain milk yields have added three pence per litre to the farm’s cost of production, David calculates.

But the strategy of purchasing silage has at least allowed him to sleep at night.

“It has been a very expensive year but when you are looking at nothing but concrete in your silage clamps and the worry is keeping you awake at night you have to make a decision,’’ says David.

He only has sufficient reserves of his own silage to feed the herd for seven weeks so he has purchased clamped silage from a farm in Haverfordwest; it will be transported to the farm in Kidwelly as and when it is needed this winter.

Although it has been a difficult year, David, who farms in partnership with his 28-year-old son, Tom, won’t be beaten.

“I think there is a terrific future for agriculture in Wales but the government mustn’t look inwards with its policies for agriculture, they must look outwards and not just focus on making the countryside look nice for tourists. If they do then the trend for having less farmers is just going to continue.’’

David’s family acquired Muddlescwm in 1922 – his grandfather, David, bought it from the Pemberton Estate.

When David returned to farm in 1984 his father, Daniel, who was then 64, stepped down from the helm and David and his wife, Laura, took over. Sadly she died in 2011.

In 2015, David was joined by the next generation when Tom came home to farm. He also has a daughter Rachel, a doctor, who is currently working on a dementia research project in London.

The Gravells have developed a spring calving system over the last 20 years, now milking a herd of 400 Friesian x Jerseys on the 290-acre grazing platform at Muddlescwm.

A further farm was acquired in 2015, at Five Roads, which brings the total farmed to 500 acres.

This has allowed the business to take back control of heifer rearing and growing silage crops. “We used to outsource our heifer rearing and imported all our silage but we do everything in-house now,’’ David explains.

The herd, which calves from February 1 to April 10, produces an annual milk yield average of 6,000 litres at 4.6 per cent butterfat and 3.6 per cent protein with cows milked in a 24/48 swingover parlour. The farm had been supplying First Milk but from December 1 its contract will be with Dairy Partners.

The system revolves around maximising milk production from grass. In an average year 1.2-1.3 tonnes of concentrates per cow is fed but that has increased to 1.6 tonnes this year due to the challenging weather conditions.

As well as being one of the founding members of the Grasshoppers Discussion Group, David is also the county vice-chairman for NFU Cymru in Carmarthenshire.

He says the voice that the union gives to farmers is critical, more so now than ever.

“There are a lot of negotiations going on and without a strong voice we could end up at the bottom of the pile of the groups being listened to. Lobbying is so important.’’

The Welsh Government’s consultation on agricultural reform has now closed and David hopes farmers took the opportunity to make their opinions count by responding to this.

“We are custodians of the countryside and we can’t get away from it, but I hope the government understands that no-one will look after it as well as farmers do.’’

But farmers, he argues, “can’t go green unless they are in the black’’.

“The government must value the importance of the farming industry.

“We have everything to compete on a global stage – a temperate climate and a good resource in grass – and we can build an industry that we can sell to the world. But I worry that the policy makers seem to be looking inwards rather than outwards.’’

While David might have once argued that the industry could survive without direct subsidies that is no longer the case.

“I’m not so blasé about that any more. For the average farmer, the single farm payment is important. Margins are getting tighter and tighter, we are working harder and harder but not getting any further up the ladder.’’