A Welsh sheep farm is hoping to increase resilience in its lamb finishing system by growing drought-tolerant lucerne.
The deep-rooted nitrogen-fixing crop with its high protein content has the potential to be the ideal feed for finishing lambs at Newton Farm, Brecon.
The Roderick family successfully applied for funding from the new Farming Connect ‘Try Out Fund’ to investigate if growing lucerne could make their business more resilient to drier grazing seasons, and against volatile feed prices by displacing bought-in concentrates.
Their farm, which sits on a south-facing bank and has free-draining soils, is prone to grass burn off in a dry hot summer.
Richard Roderick says that with a changing climate likely to result in those summers becoming commonplace lucerne could be part of a mixture of solutions that make Welsh farming businesses like his more resilient.
It is already commonly grown and successfully utilised by sheep farmers in the east of England and New Zealand but less so in Wales.
Mr Roderick is currently changing his sheep system, with plans to lamb greater numbers of sheep outdoors in April to reduce concentrate use and feed costs.
But this change comes with concern that he must have a reliable source of high-quality grazing for growing and finishing lambs throughout the summer. He plans to grow 9.7 hectares of lucerne, incorporating cocksfoot and timothy into the ley.
The crop, which will be planted in spring 2024, will be rotationally grazed by lambs through to finishing.
Its yield will be monitored and lambs weighed at key points during the trial with their weights compared to lambs grazing grass and clover leys, to establish if it can deliver positive financial benefits for the business compared to those feeds.
Lamb health and worm burdens will be monitored too with support from Honddu Vets, Brecon.
Mr Roderick hopes lucerne could further reduce the farm’s carbon footprint by speeding up lamb finishing periods. He is grateful to the Farming Connect Try Out Fund for the opportunity to do this research to inform future decision making. He says it not only has the potential to benefit his own farm but others in the region too as the results will be widely shared with the industry.
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