The suitability of Welsh hill farms for growing productive crops of tea is being investigated in a detailed study underway in Powys.
Mandy Lloyd spotted an opportunity to use land on Cleobury Farm at Heyope, Knighton, to grow this high value crop to generate additional income from her 150 acres of hill land.
Although tea is already being grown successfully in the UK, it is believed to be a first on a hill farm.
Like many farms, Cleobury has a diversity of land types so working out which areas are most appropriate for planting tea bushes, where they are most likely to thrive and produce an optimal yield are important first steps.
Mandy is able to investigate these thanks to funding from the Farming Connect ‘Try Out Fund’, a new initiative that gives farmers and growers the chance to test their ideas and bring them to life.
One hundred and forty Camellia sinensis tea bushes are being grown on different plots around the farm, with those sites selected through a process known as geospatial analysis, which involves assessing the compatibility of the crop with geographical locations based on factors including climate, light intensity and soil characteristics.
In the coming months, plant growth will be assessed and phenotypic traits such as height, width, stem diameter and leaf area recorded.
Mandy says there is a gap in knowledge about tea growing in Wales and the UK generally as it is a novel crop.
“This project will build on the existing knowledge, and could be applied to other novel crops,’’ she says.
This will be beneficial not only to her business but to others too, she adds.
“We are trying crop diversification with the aim of improving profitability within our agricultural business whilst protecting the environment, improving diversity and producing a high-end crop long-term.’’
Mandy, who also farms beef and sheep, hopes there will be a positive effect from growing this crop on soil biology too, especially on land with sparse grass coverage.
On a broader scale, she also sees the potential of reducing imports of tea if growers in Wales can establish a successful supply of it.
“There is a need for an environmentally and socially responsible food and drink local supply chain, providing consumers with nutritious products, long term,’’ Mandy suggests.
“Keeping profits local brings wider benefits, with a thriving local economy and increased spend, resulting in an increased supply and further job opportunities, creating cohesive communities.’’
Farming Connect developed the Try-Out Fund to address specific local problems or opportunities with the aim of improving efficiencies and profitability within agricultural businesses whilst also protecting the environment.
The Try-Out fund provides funding for successful project applications to individual business or groups of up to four farming businesses and growers enabling them to try-out ideas and bring them to life.
The new application window for the Try Out Fund opened on October 9th 2023 and will run until October 20th. Successful applicants will be awarded up to £5,000 to help fund on-farm trials that experiment with new ideas. Applicants must be registered with Farming Connect and be able to complete their projects by January 2025.
“Funding can be used for technical assistance, sampling, testing and other reasonable expenses such as those relating to short term hire of specialist equipment or facilities directly relating to the project,’’ Ms Williams explained.
The application form can be found on the Farming Connect website, or to receive the link and further information contact firstname.lastname@example.org