Dairy farmers boost prospects by selling own ice cream

Mary Jones turned her garage into an ice cream processing area.

Dairy farmers across Wales have been struggling in recent years - with the costs of running their farms outstripping the price they are paid for their milk.

Many have been forced out of business - but, of those that remain, increasing numbers are choosing to add value to their milk, cutting out the milddleman by turning it into cheese, yoghurt or ice cream.

Among many selling their own produce at the Royal Welsh Show this week is Mary Jones. She makes ice cream from the milk of her family's cows at Ffrwden Farm, near Llandeilo in Carmarthenshire, where she has turned her garage into an ice cream processing area.

Watch her making the ice cream - and talking through the process

She and her husband Terry are first generation farmers. They have been tenants at Ffrwden for 17 years, and now have around 150 milking cows. With milk prices at a real low, Mary was inspired by an article in a dairy farming magazine in 2006, encouraging farmers to add value by turning their milk into ice cream.

This is how she illustrates the mark-up:

  • Farmers receive around 30p per litre of milk, on average, when selling it to a big milk buyer

  • Each litre of milk - with other ingredients added - makes around 3 litres of ice cream

  • That's about 18 scoops - sold directly to the public, that comes to at least £30

Mary sells her own brand - Mountainview Ice Cream - at a number of events every summer, from school fetes to the Royal Welsh.

At Llanelwedd this week, she is selling ice cream milkshakes, on a stall with the co-operative Calon Wen.

Mary's ice cream is on sale at the Royal Welsh Show.

It was formed by a group of four dairy farmers in 2000, who wanted to sell their own milk directly to local people, and now has 25 family farms as members.

The 2011-12 Directory of Food and Drink from the People of Wales lists 35 further companies set up by farmers, selling milk, butter, cream, cheese, yoghurt and ice cream that has come from their own farms.

That has risen from 19 in the 2010-11 directory.

Those numbers run alongside a major decline in the number of Welsh dairy farmers over the past decade, with the industry regularly described as 'in crisis', due to high costs and low milk prices.

Figures from the Food Standards Agency show:

  • September 2002 - 3,119 registered dairy holdings in Wales

  • July 2013 - 1,882 registered dairy holdings in Wales

  • A fall of 39.6%

Efforts to improve the deal for dairy farmers have been made more recently.

Farmers and milk processors agreed a voluntary code of practice over prices, after a summit meeting on the first day of last year's Royal Welsh Show, after weeks of protests.

Read More: Agreement reached in milk price row

The number of farmers choosing to make and sell their own retail products is still relatively low, but growing.

The Dairy Development Centre, which runs alongside Coleg Sir Gar, works to strengthen the dairy industry in Wales with technology and market intelligence.

Sales may have been given a boost by the recent hot weather - but the Welsh taste for ice cream has been an enduring one.

The connection is thought to have started at the beginning of the 20th century, with the migration of Italian families into South Wales, at the time of economic boom on the coalfields.

The Bracchi brothers were at the forefront of the Welsh-Italian ice cream connection.

Angelo and Giacomo Bracchi were among the pioneers of the Italian cafe culture in the Valleys, and ice cream parlours came to be known simply as 'Bracchis.'

Luigi Cascarini opened his chain of cafes in Swansea - his son Joe ran the cafe on St Helen's Road - and Joe's Ice Cream survives more than 90 years on.

Adrian Hughes, a director of the company, explains how it came to open its first parlour in Cardiff this February.

He says Joe's is "proud" to use Welsh produce.

There are a growing number of Welsh farmers selling from the stalls of the Royal Welsh Show this week, showing off what they can do with their own Welsh milk, hoping to boost their incomes and secure a future for their farms.