Bryony Gittins needed no persuading when she had the opportunity to return to the family farm in Llanthony near Abergavenny, where she grew up helping her parents with the day to day running of the business. In their late teens, she and her siblings had helped their parents to diversify, setting up a successful on-farm riding and trekking enterprise.
Having lived and worked out of the industry for a number of years, in London and more recently in Hay on Wye, where she works as an outdoor pursuits instructor, Bryony is now on a personal mission to bring this family hill farm back to its former glory and earn her livelihood as a full time farmer.
“The farm has been in our family for two generations already, and I didn’t want to see that continuity lost.”
In order to ensure the business reaches its potential again - it includes 276 acres of land within the Brecon Beacons National Park with a further 100 acres rented - Bryony knew she needed to bring her own farming skills and knowledge up to speed, which is when she turned to Farming Connect.
Her parents Colin and Cordelia Passmore have been quietly scaling back their involvement with day to day farming for a number of years. They gave up the demands of their herd of 60 pedigree Hereford cattle in 2016 to concentrate on what they hoped would be the less labour-intensive mixed flock of Lleyn, Texel and Charollais sheep.
But having decided to reduce the flock size, they found they had a new problem. There was too much grass, which soon became fertile ground for thistles, nettles and bracken.
“Dad advised me to register with Farming Connect, and I soon realised just how much guidance and support is available, most of it either fully funded or heavily subsidised.
“I remember signing up for Farming Connect business courses many years ago, when we first set up the equine venture, and I’m still utilising those skills today, so I didn’t need much convincing.”
What Bryony hadn’t expected was that these days you can learn a lot from the comfort of your own home if you are registered with Farming Connect. She first discovered the benefits of e-learning when, having completed an online personal development plan (PDP) that identified not only her strengths but also the gaps in her knowledge, she signed up for Farming Connect’s online farm Health & Safety course. This is essential if you plan to apply for practical training and machinery courses.
In order to tackle the issue of poor quality grazing, she then signed up for e-courses on grazing systems and grassland management generally.
“It’s early days, but I am already starting to put into practice what I’ve learnt. The modules emphasise the importance of containing your stock in smaller areas and rotating them to fresh pastures, so we have already started sectioning off by improving all the fencing and gateposts.”
Bryony also applied for one-to-one support through Farming Connect’s mentoring programme. Ben Anthony, an experienced sheep farmer from Carmarthenshire who successfully increased his own flock performance by improving his grazing management through home-grown crops and forage, is now encouraging Bryony to consider some of the systems and species of grass that he has successfully tried and tested.
Bryony and her dad have 500 ewes going to tup this year, with another 150 joining them next year, and she plans to build up stock numbers in a steady programme of expansion.
“I find Farming Connect open days immensely valuable, and in addition to seeing what works well for other farmers, I’ve learnt so much on topics ranging from worm resistance in sheep through to grazing management,” says Bryony. She also recently obtained her PA1 and PA6 pesticides certificates, funded through a Farming Connect training course.
Her parents wound down the riding enterprise some years ago, but Bryony is already talking about the future and the opportunities for a new stream of income.
“Get the farmland and stock performing at their best again and then who knows what will follow!”
For further information on skills and mentoring, click here.