By Debbie James

Wales’ largest farmer-owned agricultural co-operative has appointed Pembrokeshire farmer Walter Simon as its new chairman.

The potato grower takes on the role at Clynderwen and Cardiganshire Farmers (CCF) from fellow Pembrokeshire farmer and businessman Richard Francis, who had been chairman for 10 years.

Mr Simon’s industry insight and expertise runs side by side with CCF’s ambitions to build on its reputation as a leading player in the agricultural supply sector in Wales and the Borders.

As agriculture prepares for a period of great change, he says the co-operative structure is more important now than ever.

“As farmers we run individual businesses, often working with much larger corporate structures, and that can sometimes lead to an imbalance of power,’’ he suggests.

“Co-operatives are able to offer fairer deals to farmers because they don’t have to pay big shareholder dividends therefore a significant proportion of profits can be returned to customers and members.’’

As the industry loses its traditional subsidy base there will be challenges, Mr Simon acknowledges.

But through cooperation and greater collaboration, the farming sector can be more sustainable, he adds.

Mr Simon’s own family has a strong association with agricultural co-operatives.

In 1872 his father’s family established the corn and agricultural merchant, Simon and Sons, at Thrustle Mill, near Pembroke, while his mother’s family founded the maltsters, grain merchants and animal feedstuffs manufacturer, Brooks (Mistley) Ltd, in Essex.

Mr Simon, who is married to Penny and has two children, Alice and Richard, farms 350 acres at West Orielton Farm, Hundleton.

He grows 150 acres of salad and maincrop potatoes which he supplies to another co-operative, Haverfordwest-based Puffin Produce.

Mr Simon paid tribute to the outgoing chairman, whose strategic approach had positioned CCF well for sustainable growth.

The business now has 18 branches and a modern blend manufacturing facility near Cardigan.

It employs over 150 people; this team had risen to the challenges presented by the coronavirus pandemic, says Mr Simon.

“I can’t speak too highly of how the staff and the executive team have kept the business open to customers to supply them with essentials during this difficult time.’’