Eighty years after his grandfather helped launch Wales’s oldest farmers’ cooperative John Hughes and his family are still leading the way with a £500,000 investment to expand milk production.
John, 55, and son Sion, 28 are reaping the rewards of building a new, state-of-the-art milking parlour at Ynysgain Fawr overlooking the stunning Llŷn Peninsula coastline a couple of miles from Criccieth.
Yields have already risen by 10 per cent and the other massive bonus is that the time spent milking is down from nine hours to three hours every day thanks to the sophisticated efficiency of the new computerised system.
The investment was made possible thanks to a Sustainable Production Grant of £200,000, European money that came via the Welsh Government, on top of the £300,000 the family put into the development.
The ultimate aim is to increase production from the Holstein-Friesian herd.
That’s music to the ears of managers at South Caernarfon Creameries at Rhydygwystl, near Chwilog.
They need more milk coming through to cater for the growing demand for their cheese that uses 100 per cent Welsh milk from their 130 farmer members.
John is also the creamery’s poster boy as the star of a new TV advertising campaign to promote their popular Dragon brand that’s sold in a host of outlets including Sainsbury, Morrisons, Lidl and Tesco.
As it celebrates its 80th anniversary, the creamery is also recruiting new farmer members, following the £13.5 million investment in their new cheese production and packing plant at Chwilog, under the leadership of Managing Director Alan Wyn Jones, who is now in his 10th year in the role.
The creamery’s investment has resulted in a 25 per cent increase in production in less than two years, and the winning of several major new contracts.
Sales reached a record high of £45.1 million for the year to March 2018 and will hit over £50 million in the current year.
This resulted in members being paid one of the best milk price in Wales for the second year running.
According to John, the success of South Caernarfon Creameries is beyond the wildest dreams of his grandfather Hugh Hughes, his grandmother, Mary, and his father, Owen Gwynant Hughes, along with his uncle, Humphrey, who moved to Ynysgain in 1943.
The creamery was “a real blessing” to the farming community in Gwynedd and other parts of Wales, as far afield as North East Wales and Pembrokeshire, where the co-operative now also sources its milk.
It gave him the confidence to build the new milking parlour to house the Dairy Master 2040 rapid exit system and a new 12,000 litre tank, along with a new slurry pit, to future proof the 265-acre operation at Ynysgain for many years to come.
John said: “This equipment and the slurry pit has cost £500,000. It’s not something we would have been able to do were it not for the grant, and we’re very grateful.
“Ear tags enable each cow to be identified as it enters the milking parlour and the monitors in the collars on each cow can tell how much they have been eating and how much milk they produce every day so the amount of feed they are given is adjusted accordingly to optimise the yield and the quality of the milk.
“The system flags up if a cow is not well and if a cow is ready for a bull it pulls it into a pen for us.
“All the information can be seen at a glance and behaviour alerts come through to our smart phones.
“Dairy Master say that they would expect to see an increase in yield of five per cent, but I would say we’re closer to 10 per cent.
“For us as a family it’s made an incredible difference because we used to milk for almost nine hours a day and now we milk for three hours.
“If we save six hours in the milking, well it’s six hours for Sion and for me too. We get 12 hours a day really. You can’t put a price on the quality of life. “
For his part, Sion is proud to be a fourth generation member of South Caernarfon Creameries.
He said: “My great grandfather was one of the first ever members to send milk to the creamery in 1938 when it started and then from Ynysgain when they moved here in 1943.
“We sell our milk exclusively to the creamery and we wouldn’t take it anywhere else.
“Whatever the creamery makes comes back to us as producers. We own it as producers and it’s been a blessing to a lot of farms.
“It’s put a lot of farms on their feet, and we should be very thankful to our pioneering forefathers who started it.”
Managing Director Alan Wyn-Jones said: “Forward-thinking farmers like John and Sion and their family are the backbone of South Caernarfon Creameries.
“They have given us the platform to develop new, award-winning products that are driving our growth.
“After 80 years, our ambition to grow and add value is as strong as ever but this can only be achieved with our farmer members having a similar mind-set.”