The National Farmers’ Union in Wales is calling on the Welsh Assembly to help farmers diversify into equine businesses following a report showing the growing importance of the sector to their income.

The report, Horses and Farming, says that the horse industry in Wales has expanded rapidly in the past 10 years and is now a worth around £15m – a third of the size of farming’s contribution to the economy.

It’s also believed to be the second biggest employer in the countryside.

The report says farmers incomes are at their lowest for 30 years and they are becoming increasingly dependent on secondary activities.

NFU Cymru president Peredur Hughes told Horse & Hound Online: “There’s definitely room for more expansion of the horse industry, particularly in tourist areas. We want the Welsh Assembly to see if EU money can be targeted to see what more can be done.

“We also call on planning authorities to make it easier to set up equine activities. At the moment they are not classed as agricultural when seeking planning permission.”

The NFU research showed that equestrian activities in Wales account for 17% of planning permission applications, second only to tourism at 31%. In more accessible areas the horse industry exceeds tourism, accounting for 30% of applications.

Diversification opportunities include livery stables, riding schools, bed and breakfast with horse facilities, on-farm equestrian shops, toll rides or cross-country courses, transportation and hay or haylage production.