A West Wales dairy farming couple has recalled how they helped achieve a boost in their financial prospects by reluctantly taking controversial advice from their son.
Keith and Linda Hughes of Caeau Newydd, Dryslwyn, near Carmarthen, agreed to convert their 400-acre mixed stock farm of dairy, beef and sheep to the "New Zealand System" of farming based on pasture and grazing when their son James returned from a gap year working on a dairy farm in New Zealand.
After studying agriculture at the former Welsh Agricultural College in Aberystwyth James, now 34, was ready to start working on the family farm.
"With him coming home and an extra man already working on the farm we knew that we had to step up a gear," Keith said. "I didn’t want to do all the hard work myself and hand everything over to him on a plate.
"I wanted him to have an input into what direction we would go so we waited until he returned from New Zealand. Little did I know what he had in mind and it took him a few months to persuade us of the new Kiwi system of milk production that we had never heard of before."
The family then took the new system on board wholeheartedly. Keith became so excited about it that he could not stop telling friends and neighbours about this new way of making money.
"I had a negative reaction from everybody. I realised then that if I wanted to keep any friends I'd better shut up about it," he told Farmers' Union of Wales officials when they visited the farm.
However, together with Linda and James they were determined to proceed with the new venture which meant the beef and sheep enterprises had to be sacrificed to accommodate a large dairy herd which, of course, meant a new larger parlour.
The new venture did not get of to an easy start. "The next problem we faced was the milking parlour. James had been in New Zealand for a year and he had very different ideas about what sort of parlour he would need.
"A cheap and cheerful swing over parlour was required. Unfortunately, no manufacturer in this country would let us have one but eventually James made some contacts at a dairy show with a man who imported milking parlours from New Zealand."
The family then proceeded to build the first swing over parlour in Wales in 1999. "In the first year we milked 128 cows on a herd group constantly.
"In the beginning we ran a fine herd, because it was possible to access cows that were cheap to purchase and would calve in the spring."
Today the family runs their own home breed. "We cross Jersey bulls with large Holstein cows for the larger cows and the New Zealand Friesian for the smaller cows. The herd grew rapidly - so much so that our heifers are now contract reared from three months," said Keith.
"Now that we have lowered the herd stocking level it has given us the opportunity to improve pasture by reseeding. Two years ago we implemented a plan to reseed 70 acres every year.
"We have improved grass production so that we can upgrade to at least 360 cows and helped to mitigate the loss of the single farm payment."
The majority of the farm shares were handed over to James following Keith’s 60th birthday. Keith is confident James will make a success of the business.
"I passionately believe that the future of farming should be in the hands of vibrant young farmers," he added.
Looking back on a successful past year, Keith and Linda are optimistic about the future and believe the Kiwi way of dairy milk farming was definitely the right choice for them.
"Our carried forward profit per share (cfps) for 2009 - which was not a pretty good year due to poor quality silage - and after all our costs including our own salaries, which are realistic, and quite a chunk for depreciation, we were left at the end of all that, excluding the single farm payment, with a net profit margin of 5.31 pence per litre."
Keith and Linda set up the farm 35 years ago when they rented 150 acres. Five years later they were offered first refusal on a further 250 acres - an opportunity they could not refuse.
"We then grew to 400 acres, 350 of which grow grass and the rest holds trees, rivers and cow tracks," Keith added.
At the end of the visit, FUW president Gareth Vaughan said:""It is a wonderful system. I have read a lot about it but I have never seen this system in action before.
"I compliment you on your attitude towards life and the young people in the family. That is an attitude that lots of us in the industry could learn from."