25 October 2021

 

A Welsh lamb producer more than doubled his income from land growing a winter grazing crop of a rape, ryegrass and Berseem clover mixture compared to brassicas, and soils were not left bare over the winter.

James Powell trialled 4.7 hectares (ha) of Clampsaver against 4.7ha of Brassica Express as part of his project work as a Farming Connect demonstration farmer.

Mr Powell had historically grown brassicas on his upland farm at Dolygarn, Llanbadarn Fynydd, but was concerned about soil erosion when fields were bare in the winter.

The farm rises from 1,000-1,480 feet and sits above the river Ithon.

With guidance from independent grassland and forage specialist Charlie Morgan, Mr Powell trialled an alternative.

That trial, run from spring 2020 to summer 2021, demonstrated that growing a crop of Clampsaver had allowed Mr Powell to double his income from lamb sales – he produced 7,843kg of lamb on 4.7ha, returning £16,845 in sales, compared to 3,500kg of lamb worth £7,500 from the brassicas.

And the benefits didn’t end with lamb sales in the Clampsaver field as Mr Powell was able to graze regrowth with 200 ewe lambs - the value of that alone more than covered the £82/ha (£33/acre) difference between the seed cost of Clampsaver and Brassica Express; 88 bales of silage were also harvested.

The field was then reseeded in June at a time of the year when there is less risk of run-off.

In comparison, the field that hosted the brassicas was bare from January until reseeding in May.

During a Farming Connect Demo Farm Live event at Dolygarn, Mr Morgan said the difference between the economic performance of the two fields had been “phenomenal”.

Mr Powell is now growing 8ha of Clampsaver.

“We can graze it in the back end of the year, lamb on it in the spring and then get the value of silage from it,’’ he said.

“Nature has never had bare soil; we are going with nature, having more roots in the ground and more biodiversity.’’

There are good reasons why farmers want to extend the grazing season, not least to reduce winter feed costs, but it is essential to select a system that matches farm conditions.

Growing crops such as kale, turnips and fodder beet on higher ground has an environmental impact, Mr Morgan told farmers.

“As you travel further up the hill and there is a risk of run-off and water quality is affected, it is a problem.

“If you grow stubble turnips and finish grazing in January, the land is bare until May in the uplands, and during that time, the land is not only losing soil but is costing you because it isn’t earning any money.’’

And yet, there is still a reason to grow a break crop in a grassland system, Mr Morgan added.

“We are seeing a move away from the plough on higher land and more direct drilling but that is still grass to grass and it doesn’t solve pest issues like chafer grubs and leather jackets.

“Farmers still need to grow winter crops but to do it in a more sustainable way that prevents soil erosion.’’

Bridie Whittle, catchment adviser with the Wye and Usk Foundation, has been working with Farming Connect on the project at Dolygarn.

She said small changes made on farms can add up and make a big difference to rivers and the environment, but also benefit a farm business, as this project had demonstrated.

“The results on the economic and production side of it are very impressive, but the rape and grass mix wins on the environmental side too,’’ said Ms Whittle.

An assessment of the soil made in December 2020 had shown that the soil surface in the Clampsaver field was protected and had a root density that guarded against compaction, while the soil in the brassica field left bare after grazing was vulnerable to erosion and had less root density.

“I am very confident that there are some very good environmental outcomes from this project,’’ said Ms Whittle.

The worm count alone in the soil hosting the Clampsaver was 50% higher than in the brassica field.

A golden rule to reducing risks from winter grazed brassicas is to keep roots and shoots in the ground to protect the soil, Ms Whittle advised.

She said there were many measures farmers could take to reduce risks further.

  • Avoid high risk fields – heavy soils, long slopes and fields next to watercourses
  • Leave uncultivated grass buffer strips alongside streams, ditches and tracks to intercept any run-off
  • Minimise cultivations to protect soil structure – ploughing and power harrowing leaves soil vulnerable to compaction and erosion
  • Graze down the slope if strip or paddock grazing
  • Leave grass headlands for supplementary feeding and runback and put bales out in summer to avoid compaction from farm vehicles

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.


Related News and Events

Sensor trial informing slurry application policy at Welsh dairy farm
6 December 2021 Sensors on trial at an Anglesey dairy farm to
How giving cows time and space will improve milking efficiency
2 December 2021 Small changes to the routine around milking can
Innovation demonstrated in Farming Connect project helps Pruex win agri-tech award
25 November 2021 A Welsh business whose automated spraying