9 April 2021
Grassland management on Welsh farms has been transformed in a decade with one beef farmer describing rotational grazing as an ‘absolute game-changer’ for his business.
Paul Williams, who runs a suckler herd at Cae Haidd, Llanrwst, was a Farming Connect demonstration farmer for three years from 2016.
During a webinar reflecting on a decade of Farming Connect demonstration sites, Mr Williams said he had more than doubled his stocking rate and now turns cattle out to graze three weeks earlier in the spring thanks to techniques he put in place as a result of being a demonstration farmer.
“It has been an absolute game changer, we knew we could grow grass but we are now utilising it and making better use of it,’’ said Mr Williams.
During the last 10 years, more than 20,000 farmers have attended over 1,000 events on 500 Farming Connect demonstration and focus sites.
Farming Connect Technical Development Manager Dewi Hughes, who chaired the webinar, said there had been trials to test if innovative technology worked – or if it didn’t.
“Sometimes it is important to show what doesn’t work as well as what does,’’ said Mr Hughes. “Our demonstration farmers are very forward-thinking people who often take a lot of risks to trial new technology.’’
Their willingness to take these risks to improve their businesses allows other farmers to benefit from their findings, he added.
“We are wholly reliant on innovative farmers to demonstrate new opportunities within agriculture,’’ said Mr Hughes.
There had been many changes in the last decade, he reflected, not least the way farmers manage grassland.
“Rotational grazing has absolutely transformed the amount of grass farmers are able to grow and that has increased their efficiency,’’ said Mr Hughes.
Mr Williams was one of three former demonstration farmers who participated in the webinar – he was joined by Richard Roderick, of Newton Farm, Brecon, and Hopkin Evans, of Marcross Farm, Llantwit Major.
Mr Roderick said he had appreciated the opportunity to work with good consultants. “It gave us a real focus and helped us on our way.’’
Among the initiatives he had trialed was the application of digestate as a nutrient – this had resulted in savings of £27/acre on the use of bagged nitrogen. This approach is still used at Newton Farm.
Mr Roderick hosted 17 farmer events for Farming Connect, including ministerial visits which had informed policy making, highlighting the ambassador’s role of a demonstration farmer.
He has since become involved in other initiatives, including an EIP (European Innovation Partnership) project on carbon neutral farming.
At Marcross, a Farming Connect project run in conjunction with the local vet had eliminated neosporosis from the herd for several years, although there had been a single case in March 2021.
Through developing the ‘blitz treatment’ with mobility specialist Sara Pedersen, cow foot health had hugely improved too, and many others are now adopting the same protocol for managing lameness.
Mr Evans is continuing this work through an EIP project to enable other farmers to benefit from the technique.
Also, a time and motion study had trimmed 30 minutes off milking time and, as a result, the annual milk yield average per cow had increased by 2,000 litres.
One of the biggest gains had come from slurry management, said Mr Evans. By using nutrients more effectively, the savings over six years on bagged nitrogen and other fertilisers and using a dribble bar for application had amounted to the equivalent of the cost of a new slurry store and slurry tanker.
“Working with Farming Connect changed my perspective on what we were doing, that we could be more efficient,’’ said Mr Evans.
Farming Connect, which is delivered by Menter a Busnes and Lantra, has received funding through the Welsh Government Rural Communities - Rural Development Programme 2014-2020, which is funded by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development and the Welsh Government.