Candidates shortlisted for the 2018 Sir Bryner Jones Memorial Award

29 June 2018

As the Royal Welsh Agricultural Society’s flagship accolade, the Sir Bryner Jones Memorial Award is hotly contested year after year.

With exceptional entries from 8 counties across Wales, the judges have had a difficult task whittling it down to three very worthy candidates. Once again, the overall winner of this year’s coveted award will be kept under wraps until the Royal Welsh Show, where the shortlisted contenders and their families will attend the Royal Welsh Agricultural Society award presentations on the first day of the show to hear the winner announced for the first time.

Sir Bryner Jones helped shape the direction of the Royal Welsh Agricultural Society for 50 years, was Agricultural Commissioner for Wales and subsequently became Welsh Secretary of the Ministry of Agriculture. He was President of the Royal Welsh in 1954, the society’s golden jubilee year.

Since 1957 the award has been made annually to someone from a different area of the farming industry who has reached the highest level of achievement in the chosen sector. This year the judges were looking for the most effective and efficient sheep farming enterprise in Wales.

“We feel very privileged to have been able to visit eight exceptional sheep farming enterprises throughout Wales.” Remarked the judges, Dr David Morris FRAgS and Mr Dafydd Parry Jones ARAgS.

“We were able to see for ourselves how each enterprise was utilising technology and techniques to make their business more effective, efficient and profitable to ensure the sustainability of the farm for the future. 

“All eight candidates were exemplary, a credit to the sheep industry in Wales and it was encouraging to see the willingness to share their knowledge with other farmers including the next generation.”

In alphabetical order, the three shortlisted candidates are:

Mr Ben Anthony & Ms Diana Fairclough, Frowen, Login, Whitland, Carmarthenshire.

Frowen Farm lies in the gently undulating landscape in the North West of Carmarthenshire. Ben and Diana, took over Diana’s Parents 145 acre farm in 2010, and also rent an additional 90 acres.  Having carried out research, they decided to mainly concentrate on sheep production and prioritise investment in what is now a highly successful, high-output, forage based sheep enterprise. They currently have 650 Aberfield x Tregaron Welsh ewes, plus 230 ewe lambs, 12 suckler cows and calves, plus 18 store cattle.

The couple strongly believes in performance recorded rams, and introduced EID throughout the flock. They monitor the performance of ewes, lambs and rams, and act on the wealth of data collected. The judges were immensely impressed on the huge investment over recent years, in the infrastructure of the farm. A new modern lambing shed had been erected, with further development proposed, all to ease the work of lambing their flock in a more condensed lambing period.

Extensive work had also been carried out in fencing and water utilisation, to ease grazing management. Attention to detail was obvious in the grassland management, reseeding around 30 acres annually, which greatly assists in finishing lambs off a forage based diet. Grass growth measurements, and rotational grazing, have all been introduced along with improving grass leys.  Winter brassicas are also grown to help extend the grazing season for the ewes prior to lambing and also assist in resting the grass fields for ewes and lambs at turnout.

Ben and Diana both work off the farm, and are very passionate about their sheep enterprise. They are always keen to learn and improve their business, also willing to share what they have learnt with others through on farm open days, regular college visits, and are very often asked to speak and share their experience and knowledge in discussion groups in Wales and further afield. A further notable achievement was winning the Farmers Guardian ‘Sheep Innovator of the Year in 2016’.

The judges were very impressed with their professional presentation of the information, their shrewd knowledge of financial information of flock performance and their clear aims and future direction of their farm and flock. Their ability of bringing technology, practical sheep monitoring, and general attention to detail, was highly commended.

Mr Michael James & Mrs Ella James, Neuadd Blaenduhonw, Maesmynis, Builth Wells, Powys.

Neuadd Blaenduhonw is a 211 acre severely disadvantaged farm, with mountain rights on the adjoining Mynydd Epynt. As the name suggests, it’s at the “Blaen” (Head) of the Duhonw valley in Maesmynis, Builth Wells. The farm ranges from 300m to 430m contours, with many undulating and sloping fields, a farm that can be described as very “challenging”.

Michael and Ella took over the farm from Michael’s parents nearly ten years ago, where a very efficient well farmed unit has developed. Present stocking consists of a total of 700 ewes, including an elite flock of 24 registered Bluefaced Leicester ewes, 50 Pedigree Texel ewes, both for the production and sale of high quality breeding rams, which are sold at society sales throughout the UK.

The more commercial sheep enterprise consists of 450 Beulah Speckle faced ewes producing top quality Mule ewe lambs, for sale and retention as breeding females for the 200 Mule flock lambing at 200%, which when crossed with home bred Texel rams produce finished lambs sold in the early market.

The judges were most impressed with Michael and Ella’s ability to produce outstanding animals, for which has been the greatest demand, resulting in top awards and sale prices in the sale ring at the relevant breed shows and sales. These achievements were considered as being truly outstanding. Their attention to detail not only in their flock management, shepherding skills, and also in their general farm management skills greatly impressed the judges. The management of the grassland on the whole farm was very impressive, bearing in mind the topography and height above sea level of the farm. The major reliance at Neuadd Blaenduhonw on good well managed grass to achieve high levels of livestock output was to be highly commended.

Modern technology is being used in the management of the flock. Full use is being made of EID tagging, and also use Facebook to promote sales. Knowing cost of production and calculating of margins, is a very important part of their management, to maintain an efficient profitable system. All groups of sheep are performance recorded and critical decisions on selection are made with the aid of these results, together with the all-important visual appraisal of the animal for its selection for further breeding. Even though Michael and Ella are achieving great success, they are always thinking of future developments and improvement of their flock. 

Michael takes an active role beyond the farm gate. He is a member of the Bluefaced Leicester National Breed Council, a member of the Breed Development Committee, and past Chairman of Wales Council. 

Mr Andrew R J Phillips, Windsor Farm, Lamphey, Pembroke.

Andrew farms with his parents at Windsor farm, in the lowland of South Pembrokeshire. The farm extends to over a 1000 acres (420 owned and 600 rented). The sheep enterprise consists of 2400 ewes, aiming to produce around 4000 finished lambs, sold fat from May to November. A very high percentage of the lambs achieve E and U grades, and are sold via Wales YFC and Dunbia lamb initiative. Andrew won “Supplier of the Year” last year, and is very involved with the scheme which promotes the YFC, as a donation of the money goes back to the county organisation.

From a young age, Andrew always had an interest in sheep production. He gained an Agricultural degree in Harper Adams, and spent a few months, having work experience on a large sheep farm in Scotland. He also wrote a report as part of his degree on “Options to enhance profitability in sheep on a lowland farm in West Wales”. The report has been used as a basis to the transformation of his farming enterprise since leaving University in 2011. The judges were immensely impressed with Andrew’s drive, not only to transform the business from a mainly potato and cattle fattening enterprise, but also to take on a neighbouring farm on a Farm Business Tenancy. This has enabled him to increase the existing flock of 400 ewes in 2012, to the current flock of 2400 in 2018. Increasing steadily of around 400 ewes year on year.

In doing so, Andrew has consistently demonstrated high levels of flock management as he expanded the flock. Always looking for ways of improving efficiency, introducing all aspect of technology, with all record keeping in computerised format, through to full use of EID, with keen interest in lamb weight monitoring. Animal health issues have been seen as a priority. The farm has been closely monitoring the health status of the flock, working in association with animal health companies on product trials, to regularly monitor products on a large scale field experiments.  Twins and triplets are fed a total mixed ration diet, using a mixer wagon. Home grown maize, silage and barley is mixed and fed to housed ewes for six weeks pre lambing.

Andrew has been involved in community life, and has hosted the local show on the farm and a very popular lambing live for many YFC Clubs. Members have come to Windsor Farm for an evening of lambing, demonstrations and hands on experience. Andrew is involved with a local Farming Connect group, where they regularly meet to compare flocks, and involved in bench marking exercises. The judges were very impressed with the presentation of the holding, and the attention to detail in all matters to the highest standard. His willingness to develop and trial new methods and technology are to be highly commended.

The winner will be announced at the Royal Welsh Agricultural Society award presentations on the first day of the show, Monday 23 July 2018, at 2.30pm.