A Pembrokeshire couple’s aptitude for learning has got their new ‘gate to plate’ business model off to a flying start.
Steve and Kara Lewis are an ambitious couple who are passionate about farming having returned to their agricultural roots seven years ago.
Since that time, Steve, a Harper Adams University Agriculture graduate and Kara, who studied Animal Behaviour and Welfare at Chester University, have focused on building up a 30 acre smallholding, Fferm Wernllwyd, near Haverfordwest, which they rent from Pembrokeshire County Council.
Their efforts to create a sustainable and successful farm business which adheres to the highest standards across all areas of working have been recognised by the council.
They are currently in the final stages of planning their move to a larger 80 acre council-owned farm located nearby.
Work took them to various parts of the UK, but since moving to Fferm Wernllwyd they have steadily built up a number of flourishing farm-related enterprises.
In addition to tending to his flock, Steve set up as a self-employed farm contractor and provides pregnancy scanning and freeze branding services.
“We were both determined to develop every possible stream of income we could from the farm and to capitalise on the unique micro-climate of Pembrokeshire and the favourable conditions for growing forage,” says Steve.
Alongside building up the external trading arms of the business, Steve focused on rearing and caring for the farm’s mainly grass-fed flock of 100 commercial ewes, which until recently were all sold live at local marts.
A small number of pedigree Texels provide sires for the flock and any surplus are sold as breeding rams.
But as Steve readily admits, farmers have no control over market prices which he felt risked putting his business under immense financial pressure, especially in the uncertain trading conditions widely anticipated if Britain leaves the EU.
“This is where Farming Connect and one of its Pembrokeshire-based approved training providers, Really Pro, have played a critical role.”
“The one-to-one business training I underwent was subsidised by 80%, which was the incentive I needed to take a few hours a week away from day to day work to strengthen my business skills and knowledge.”
After completing training courses with Really Pro, Steve had the confidence to launch his new online and delivery-based business, Pembrokeshire Lamb, and he’s now selling boxes of his quality ‘gate to plate’ lamb, hogget and mutton directly to customers.
“I went from being a farmer at a loss as to what to do next, to having focus, vision and the determination to add value to our lamb.
“In just a few months, the training has given me a new sense of direction with a business and financial plan I understand, a marketing and social media strategy and a unique brand that has proved credible and appealing to buyers.”
Steve says that his training gave him the skills and confidence to take the business in a new direction, and he soon persuaded Kara to attend the same courses.
According to Kelly Monroe, one of Really Pro’s specialist trainers, Steve and Kara are both committed learners who have fully utilised the training, which was tailored to their requirements in terms of content and delivery, to drive the new business venture forward.
“Steve now has the confidence and strategic business skills he needs to develop and scale up the boxed lamb enterprise as he and Kara acquire more acreage and are able to increase stock numbers.
“Pembrokeshire Lamb’s unique selling point is that it is not trying to compete on a massive, corporate scale but to produce artisan, quality-focused sustainable lamb.
“By having control of his products from start to finish, from the live animals through processing, packaging and delivery, Steve is able to promote ‘gate to plate’ top quality lamb, hogget and mutton products that have been reared and cared for with traditional farming values, which appeal to his rapidly expanding customer base, ” said Ms. Monroe.
Steve and Kara’s marketing strategy is currently built around social media and advertising in the local press.
Steve says: “Thanks to our training, we have significantly strengthened our Facebook and Instagram presence which is now looking far more professional, with better pictures and messaging helping us ‘tell our story’ and reach more customers.
Steve and Kara plan to develop both the brand and product range further as they investigate other marketing opportunities which could include promoting the lesser known cuts of lamb, attending farmers’ markets and finding new wholesale buyers such as high-end restaurants.
“We want to promote our sustainable ethos, which means we need customers ordering fresh produce in advance.
“This allows us time to supply their orders in special branded butcher’s paper rather than vacuum packing which is reserved just for our frozen lines.”
Steve and Kara are optimistic that their plans for development of this niche prestige range of lamb products will safeguard the future for the next generation of the Lewis family.