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Farming

Farming Connect skills courses key to staff development at horticulture business

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A PLANT nursery that specialises in cultivating new and unusual species is applying the ethos of nurturing to its workforce too by utilising Farming Connect training courses and knowledge transfer events to fill skills gaps and help its staff develop.

Tucked away in the countryside on the outskirts of Caernarfon, Seiont propagates and grows hundreds of varieties of shrubs and perennial plants, including a big collection of ferns, using cuttings from its own mother stock and from tissue culture imported from laboratories across the globe.

The team of 13 is headed by managing director Neil Alcock.

He appreciates the value of skills and training opportunities having joined the family-run business as a trainee in 1987.

Having a well-trained, capable team is important for any business, says Neil.

“We have enrolled the staff on several training courses run by Farming Connect, from how to operate a forklift safely, first aid and health and safety to rodent control and manual lifting. All are important in a business like ours,’’ he says.

“Horticulture is an industry which runs on very tight margins, so, to have that helping hand with funded courses really does make a difference.’’

All training courses offered by Farming Connect are subsidised by up to 80% for registered individuals.

Knowledge transfer events run by Farming Connect have also helped the team build on their expertise.

After a site visit to a plant nursery in Hereford last year, the team came back “bursting with ideas’’, says Neil.

Seiont has also been host to Farming Connect events, when horticulture experts David Talbot and Chris Creed led the discussion on biological control methods and peat-free growing last autumn.

“We have been leading the way on peat-free growing but we will need to take this further as Wales transitions away from peat completely, so it is important for us to hear the latest thinking on this,’’ says Neil.

The event drew growers from across Wales, he adds. “The staff love it when we host open days, they allow them to interact with others in the industry.

“Any business can become insular and blinkered if people don’t get out and see and hear what others are doing and saying.

“Even though we are a very different business to the smaller nurseries who sell direct to the public there are several things that affect us all, such as legislation on plant protection products.’’

Seiont operates on a 25-acre site and has a 3,500m² propagation glasshouse at the heart of the operation.

It sells around half a million plugs annually, and grows others in polytunnels in 9cm pots to supply wholesalers who sell to the retail trade.

Every year new varieties are introduced – more recently Dryopteris Jurassic Gold, a fern with gold foliage that originated from a grower in Dorset.

“We sent the spores to a tissue culture laboratory and those produced tiny plants, we created 20,000 units from those,’’ Neil explains.

Another new variety is a miniature pampas grass, Tiny Pampa, which grow to a diminutive 60cm.

Seiont’s customer portfolio ranges from smaller retailers who grow young plants themselves, to the biggest plant finishers who supply garden centre chains and DIY stores, as well as the nation’s major specialised online retailers.

Introducing new varieties to the market gives Neil and his team a huge sense of achievement.

“There is something very satisfying about going into a retailer and seeing one of our new plants for sale, plants that originated from a cutting or a spore,’’ he says.

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Farming

Pembrokeshire Agricultural Society in search for county’s top progressive farmers

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IF you farm in Pembrokeshire and can demonstrate your farm’s use of the latest technological methods to promote progressive, sustainable agriculture then the Pembrokeshire Agricultural Society encourage you to enter the prestigious Baron de Rutzen Award.

Adam Thorne, Pembrokeshire County Show President, said, “We are looking for local Pembrokeshire farmers, under the age of 45, who can demonstrate their farm’s use of the latest technological methods to promote progressive, sustainable agriculture. They also need to show consideration for the environment and habitat sensitivity on their farm as well as present an aesthetically pleasing example of farming in the county. The competition welcomes all livestock and arable sectors to take part.”

Last year’s winners of the Award were Mark and Caroline Davies of Little Newcastle, Haverfordwest. They milk 230 pedigree Holsteins through a fully automated system. They rear their own replacements and also have a small beef enterprise. The farm is all grassland and they follow a strict reseeding and liming policy to optimise the yield from their multi-cut silage system. The couple place significant emphasis on animal health, husbandry and breeding to maximise the efficiency of their system. 

Baron John Fredrick De Rutzen was President of Pembrokeshire Agricultural Society in 1936 and the Baron de Rutzen Trophy was produced in his memory. The third Baron served in the Welsh Guards and tragically died, aged 36, in 1944.   

This year’s entrants must be fully practising farmers within the county of Pembrokeshire and were under the age of 45 years on 1 January 2024. Entries can either be by nomination or direct application online on the Pembrokeshire Agricultural Society website. Click here to apply:  Baron de Rutzen Award | Pembrokeshire County Show | Pembs Agricultural Society (pembsshow.org)

The closing date for nominations and applications is at noon on Wednesday, 29 May 2024.

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Farming

Pembrokeshire Agricultural Society elect new president

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ARABLE and beef farmer, Adam Thorne, has been unanimously elected to become the new President of Pembrokeshire Agricultural Society for the year ahead. Adam is the third generation of his family to hold the position.

During the Annual General Meeting of Pembrokeshire Agricultural Society, held last week on the Pembrokeshire Showground, Mr Tim John and his wife Margaret John were also voted in as Presidents elect.

Adam Thorne has had a long association with Pembrokeshire Agricultural Society. After visiting the show as a toddler, then helping show the family’s pedigree Herefords, his uncle got him into helping him with stewarding in his early teens. From there he progressed to being a Steward with his own section, Commercial Cattle, and then also the Butcher’s Lambs section.

From stewarding, Adam became involved with committee work, starting as an Executive and then on to the former Finance and General Purposes Committee. He has been Chairman of the Estates Committee for 12 years and is now a Board member and a Trustee.

Adam said, “I am proud of my long association with Pembrokeshire Agricultural Society. I am the third generation to now be President, following my late grandfather, Walter Thorne, my father, Robert Thorne and more recently my uncle, George Thorne. I am looking forward to my year in the prestigious position.”

Away from his work with the society, Adam runs the family’s arable and beef farm in Robeston West, Milford Haven. He has been heavily involved with Tiers Cross YFC from an early age, having been Club Secretary twice and Chairman. He has also sat on Pembrokeshire County YFC Committees and the Wales YFC Rural Affairs Committee. 

The 2024 Pembrokeshire Agricultural Society officeholders, announced at the AGM, include Miss Ffion Edwards who was awarded the role of Ambassador at last year’s show. Ffion, a nurse from Maenclochog, has enjoyed many years of attending the county show and believes that there are so many good elements to it. Ffion has been a member of Llysyfran YFC for 15 years and enjoys every aspect of young farmers – trying new experiences, competing and travelling to name a few. Mrs Nicola Owen was also elected as the Honorary Treasurer.   

Brian Jones, the outgoing Pembrokeshire Agricultural Society President, took the opportunity to thank everyone who had helped and supported him throughout his presidency. During his year as President, Brian and his wife Helen, raised a tremendous amount of money for various charities including the Pembrokeshire Agricultural Society, RABI, Tir Dewi and the DPJ Foundation. Brian also gave his assurances that Castell Howell will continue to sponsor the Food Hall for future years.

Pembrokeshire County Show, the largest county agricultural show in Wales, will be held over two days again this summer on 14 and 15 August. Everyone is invited to attend the celebration of rural life in the county.

Pictured (left to right): Ffion Edwards the Ambassador for 2024; Adam Thorne, President; Margaret and Tim John, the Presidents Elect.

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£1,000 bursary award available to Pembrokeshire agricultural students

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PEMBROKESHIRE Agricultural Society’s £1,000 Bursary Award is now open for applications from students studying agriculture, veterinary science, agricultural engineering, food technology, forestry or other subjects allied to agriculture.

The Student Bursary Award 2024 is available to students, from Pembrokeshire, who are currently studying or have been accepted to start their studies. They can apply for this financial support to assist with their chosen college or career path.

Last year’s winner of the award was Lottie Wilson from Hayscastle. Lottie was studying agriculture at the University of Nottingham when she applied for the bursary. When she is at home she is a general dairy farm worker as well as a lambing hand and a calving beef herd assistant. In 2021 she was the top agriculture student at Hartpury College.

Robert James, Chairman of the Society’s Bursary Committee said, “I would urge all Pembrokeshire students who study subjects that are clearly aligned to agriculture to apply for this bursary as it won’t only assist with your studies but will also give you great experiences such as undertaking an interview which is a key employment skill. It will also assist in your future career within the agriculture industry.”

“A panel of independent judges will draw up a short list of candidates who will be interviewed and the winning candidate will be asked to give a short presentation at a future meeting of the society’s show council.

“The standard of applications has always been exceptional which gives a lot of heart that there are a lot of very talented young people in our community. We are very much looking forward to receiving applications for this year’s bursary and hearing from the younger generation.”  

Qualifying students must not have won the student bursary on a previous occasion, the applicant must be studying or has been accepted to study agriculture or allied subjects at a UK college or university at A-Level or higher and the applicant’s family home must be in Pembrokeshire.

The bursary is tax free and will be awarded to the student who, in the opinion of the panel of judges, has submitted the best dissertation on how the bursary will assist them to complete their course of study.

Further details and the entry form can be found online: Student Bursary Award | Pembrokeshire County Show | Pembs Agricultural Society (pembsshow.org)  or by calling the show office: 01437 764331. The closing date for applications is noon on Monday, 1 July 2024.

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