JUST over a year ago, dairy farmer Ifan Jones who farms around 200 acres in Llanrhaeadr ym Mochnant in Powys, discovered a major structural failure at the base of his above-the-ground slurry tank. The incident meant the contents were at serious risk of flowing out into the field below.
“I informed Natural Resources Wales (NRW) immediately as it was clear the tank itself could collapse, which risked prosecution and a hefty fine,” said Ifan.
A prompt site visit from one of NRW’s technical team reassured him that he would be given time to implement a temporary solution to avoid the immediate risk of land pollution but it was also made clear that although they were sympathetic, he urgently needed to put long-term plans in place to avoid failing cross compliance regulations.
Realistic about the seriousness of his situation and the cost implications, Ifan was determined to do everything he could to save his herd of 110 high-yielding pedigree Holstein Friesian dairy cows, the farm’s main source of income.
NRW advised Ifan to seek professional advice from Farming Connect to provide an urgent but temporary solution to the pollution risk and help him consider his long-term options.
Ifan applied for fully-funded advice at a one-to-one ‘surgery’ provided by approved Farming Connect specialist infrastructure adviser Keith Owen. Mr. Owen visited the farm shortly after and was quickly able to negotiate an achievable temporary solution with NRW. This involved pumping the existing slurry store into a shuttered concrete silage clamp which was refurbished and converted into a temporary slurry store. This was accepted by NRW.
“This eliminated the immediate risk of the original store collapsing and gave Ifan a system for managing the slurry until the feasibility of building a new permanent storage facility could be considered and the necessary finance raised,” said Mr. Owen.
Farming Connect fully-funded infrastructure ‘surgeries’, currently provided online because of the pandemic restrictions, provide a preliminary stepping-stone used by many Welsh farmers seeking advice on tackling issues such as separating and storing clean and dirty water or if they need guidance on funding infrastructure projects.
After considering his options, Ifan appointed approved Farming Connect agri-consultancy AgriPlan. Entitled to access four separate instances of advice, all subsidised by 80% or for some areas fully funded, he was able to access advice from a team of sector-specific AgriPlan experts were able to weigh up all the slurry storage options available. Ifan was given a full infrastructure report which set out the capacity and specification of the replacement slurry store ensuring future regulatory compliance. A detailed business plan was produced, which set out not only the financial side but also a roadmap outlining steps the business needed to take to develop both efficiency and profitability and ensure its long-term sustainability.
The initial plan provided the evidence Ifan needed to obtain a substantial bank loan and to apply for the Welsh Government’s Sustainable Production Grant (SPG).
“I knew that whatever I did was going to cost money, so the future of the farm was at risk unless I could source funding,” said Ifan.
By mid-March 2019, AgriPlan was assisting him with his application for SPG which provides up to 40% financial support for farmers needing to address the impact of on-farm pollution by improving their infrastructure and management of clean and dirty water.
The Advisory Service provided not only business and financial planning but technical advice which was needed for both short and long-term solutions for dealing with the slurry as well as grassland and soil nutrient management planning.
“Ifan wanted to ensure any investment ‘future proofed’ the holding against the new Water Resources (Control of Agricultural Pollution) (Wales) Regulations 2020 and any potential stock increase. A plan was drawn up where slurry/dirty water production volume was reduced by roofing the remaining dirty yard areas, reducing future spreading and pumping costs. This in turn, reduced the required capacity of the new slurry tank, further reducing expenditure.
“Siting the slurry tank next to the old tank also helped simplify the planning process. Once in place, the new slurry tank ensured current and future regulatory compliance and flexibility for the business to grow without further infrastructure investment,” said Mr. Owen.
By early March 2019, Mark Lord of AgriPlan, a former senior agri-bank manager, had appraised every element of the business. He provided Ifan with a business plan which provided the evidence he needed on the future viability of the business, which in turn led to his application for both a bank loan and SPG being successful.
Ifan obtained three separate quotes and appointing a contractor, building works on the new slurry pit commenced and were completed by October 2020.
“At the same time, I started to implement some of the grassland management and water efficiency recommendations in the business plan, which we decided to extend to five years from the original three-year plan to give us an additional two years of financial forecasting,” said Ifan.
“The expert advice I was able to access through Farming Connect was first class and it gave me the confidence to proceed with my application for the SPG and invest in the farm’s future.”