24 June 2024

In the days when Sara Edwards’ great-grandmother farmed, agriculture had an informal network of mentors in the shape of her neighbouring farmers, sharing ideas and passing on knowledge. Three generations later and Sara sees the Farming Connect Mentoring programme as the modern-day equivalent.

The former BBC journalist returned to Pantyfen Uchaf, her family’s 200-acre farm on the Carmarthenshire-Ceredigion border, to continue the work of her father, John Edwards.

Throughout his many years of looking after the farm he has seen great value in 
agri-environment schemes, planting 2,000 native trees and managing 1.5 miles of riverbank along the River Teifi.

Sara shares his passion for nature and the environment but is the first to admit that what she lacked when she took on the management of the farm was her father’s practical knowledge. “I realised how little I knew about how things worked, but what I did know was how much I wanted to learn,’’ she says. 

That gap was quickly bridged thanks to the Farming Connect Mentoring programme.

The scheme allows farmers and foresters to receive support and guidance from their peers on a wide range of topics.

The mentor Sara was matched with was her near neighbour, Ioan Williams, who has undertaken substantial environmental work on his own farm including many kilometres of hedgerow restoration and double fencing, tree planting and fencing streamside corridors.

With his support and guidance since September 2020, Sara has planted hedgerows and small blocks of woodland and coppiced hedgerows.

“Last year we carried out a programme of hedge coppicing and gapping up and recreated one of the original fields,’’ Sara explains.

From their very first meeting, she has felt her confidence grow. “Ioan has walked the farm with me and my observational skills have improved with his guidance. He has made me more aware of the possibilities.

Ioan’s comprehensive understanding of agri-environment schemes has also helped Sara with her applications for initiatives including the Glastir Small Grants scheme, the Habitat Wales Scheme and, with one eye on the future, with her understanding of the proposed Sustainable Farming Scheme.

“If I am hesitant about applying for a particular scheme Ioan will get me to question what I want to achieve and gives me the courage to take on the right schemes for our farm, and I am carrying on with what my dad has always done, he has always been keen on planting here, and putting up nesting boxes. 

“I am now the one who is physically doing these things and future proofing the farm for the next generation. It feels really good to see the farm in good heart while helping the environment and encouraging more wildlife.’’

Registering her interest with the Farming Connect Mentoring programme was a good decision, she says.

“It is a good feeling to feel connected to Farming Connect, it has certainly made me aware of what sort of things we can be involved in.

“As farmers we are all on a journey, all on a learning curve, and there is so much we can gain from the services that Farming Connect can provide.’’

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