CEO of Wynnstay Group, Gareth Davies, addressed guests at the final Cardiff Business Club webinar of the 2020/21 season, speaking about the impact of both Brexit and the pandemic on the agricultural sector in Wales.
Gareth, who grew up as the youngest of ten children on a beef and sheep farm near Builth Wells, began his career in commercial agriculture as a fertiliser salesman before joining Wynnstay in 1999. Rising through the company from Sales Manager to Head of Agriculture, Gareth was appointed CEO of the company in 2018.
Based in Llansantffraid, Powys, Wynnstay Group is a £400M business, employing over 900 staff across its operations and specialising in four strategic units: feed, arable, agricultural depots and subsidiary businesses.
Working with both arable and livestock farmers, Gareth has witnessed the challenges the sector has faced due to the Brexit vote. He said: “The EU was the biggest trade partner for food products and £3.1billion of agricultural support came from Common Agricultural Policy so membership was important. The farming community was most definitely split on the vote; beef and sheep farmers rely on European support and markets while poultry, pig and dairy farmers were less reliant, looking for less bureaucracy and more opportunities.
“As a business, it was a difficult period. We had four years of uncertainty, not knowing whether it would be a hard Brexit or a deal, which certainly stifled investment in our business and farms. As new trade deals, like Australia this week, are announced, I would like to see more detail around providing a level playing field and ensuring that our farmers are not negatively impacted.”
Speaking about how the Covid pandemic has affected agricultural supply, Gareth said: “This is an interesting one. The initial lockdown in March 2020 was a severe blow for the company and industry. The closure of the hospitality sector and certain shops overnight forced lamb and beef prices down by 20%, milk was poured away, abattoirs reduced throughput and export markets fell so not a good start.
“In the wider industry, while the closure of hospitality was an initial blow there was a rise in home cooking, sourcing products locally from butchers and retailers, which increased the demand for UK agricultural products. When we look back at the last 12 months, we have seen an increase of upwards of 10% on the spend of home-produced lamb and beef, and a significant increase in demand for eggs and cheese.
“Our business was deemed an essential supplier, and whilst we adapted to operating within Government guidelines all our manufacturing and distribution operations continued to function.”