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Farming

Red clover innovation for Wales

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NEW research to ensure more Welsh livestock farmers could benefit from longer lasting, disease resistant red clovers is being undertaken at Aberystwyth University’s Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences (IBERS).
The three-year Welsh Government (WG) and European Regional Development Fund (ERDF)-funded project is looking at ways to improve protein production and utilisation on farms in Wales through improved forage crops.


Professor Leif Skot, head of forage plant breeding at IBERS, is leading the project, whose partners are WG, ERDF, Germinal Holdings, HCC and Farming Connect.


As part of the project, Professor Skot and his team are looking at how red clover production and persistence can be improved, helping farmers to improve their silage crop value. In turn, this could go some way in helping farmers reduce the need to buy-in as many expensive concentrates.


Historically, some producers have been drawn away from red clover due to a tendency for yields to drop off after a couple of years. To solve that problem, scientists developed varieties which focused on improved yields and better persistence so they yield well into their fourth and fifth harvest.


However, prolonging the productive life of the plant increases the risk of another problem red clover faces, which is where this new project is currently focused.


Professor Skot explains: “One of the biggest issues is that red clover is susceptible to trampling, and if the plants get damaged then they are susceptible to disease. White clover is stoloniferous, which means it grows by stolons [small roots] which spread across the soil surface and allows the plant to fill in any gaps in the sward. Red clover plants, on the other hand, grow from a single growing point, the crown. That means that once the crown is damaged and the plant succumbs to disease, the remaining plants aren’t able to compensate and fill in the gaps, leading to a loss in yields.”


In a bid to counter this, Professor Skot and his team are developing resistance to the two major diseases responsible for red clover loss: Stem Nematode and Crown Rot (Sclerotinia).


They hope that by developing disease-resistant plants, they can create a more robust, productive plant.


“Stem Nematode and Sclerotinia are soil-borne pathogens for which we have no recognised chemical control. The current solution is to take a long gap in the rotation to minimise the potential risk of the problem,” adds Paul Billings of Germinal. “This research project is looking at whether we can select material which is more resistant to each of these diseases, and then combine them to create varieties resistant to both pathogens.”


Professor Skot says he and his team have carried out several generations of selection for Stem Nematode and Sclerotinia. They are now at the stage where they will combine the resistance to one population so it can be tested in the field.
While it is high-yielding and produces high-quality forage from the first year, red clover does need to be managed in a way which will improve its resistance, Professor Skot adds.


“The crown of the plant is susceptible to damage, so we are looking at improving its structure.. Our research shows that if they have compact crowns then they are more resilient to damage from machinery and compaction from animals or grazing. The major management technique is not cutting below 5cm and not overgrazing so that the crown isn’t damaged.”


With the correct management, red clover can yield between 22 and 25 tonnes of dry matter per hectare per annum when sown with grass, with clover content able to reach as high as 20 tonnes of dry matter in the first year.


“It’s high-yielding and high-quality from the first year, which is one of the great things about the crop. By minimising the problem areas, we can hopefully give Welsh farmers a way to produce more of their own protein on-farm,” he says.


This project aims to help deliver on the Welsh Government’s Well-being of Future Generations Act, one objective of which is to drive sustainable growth. It also contributes to its Economic Action Plan which encourages greater R&D and innovation.


RED CLOVER CASE STUDY
The Cowcher family from Penrhiw, Ceredigion, a Farming Connect Focus site, has seen the advantages of growing red clover on their farm for over a decade, but the introduction of long-lasting varieties would boost the benefits of the crop even further.


“We’ve been using red clover for more than ten years since we converted to organic production,” says Phil Cowcher, who farms beef and sheep with his parents across 500 acres (202ha) of part-owned, part-rented and part share-farmed organic farmland.


“It gives us high yields of good-quality forage, which can be difficult in organic systems, and it suppresses weeds because it’s very vigorous – if we get creeping thistles it smothers and gets rid of them,” he says. “Red clover is also important for fixing nitrogen. Cereals following red clover systems seem to yield very well, and it has deep tap roots so it breaks up the compaction.”


Phil believes planting with a cereal reduces competition from weeds during establishment, as the cereal acts as a nurse crop.


The 45 acres (18ha) of red clover is used by both the farm’s beef and sheep enterprises. The calves – produced by the 60-head, mainly Stabiliser suckler herd – tend to be fed the second and third cuts, as part of the growing and finishing rations.


The first cut, which usually has a higher grass content and metabolisable energy, is usually fed to pregnant ewes late in their pregnancy. Towards the end of the growing season, the red clover leys are rotationally grazed by lambs.

In clover: Phil Cowcher at Penrhiw


Phil adds: “For the calves, I like to feed two-thirds red clover with a third barley and peas for fibre. If it’s alone then it’s a bit rich, but by combining it with barley and peas it seems to complement the clover well.


“We make sure lambs are introduced gradually to the red clover when they first graze it. Once they’ve adjusted to the diet, growth rates are good and they usually finish well – we start selling in June at around 19kg and the last ones go by October.”


Phil believes management is fairly simple but stresses the importance of sowing in a fine seedbed when soils are over 10℃. If there’s a cold spring then cereals are planted first and the red clover ley is sown on top with a grass harrow/air seeder, into the growing crop, once soil temperature is high enough.


“When we cut it we have to make sure we don’t cut it too low, and we have to be careful not to overgraze it and damage the crown too. But for us, red clover’s a high-quality, high yielding crop and we’ll definitely carrying on growing it,” Phil concludes

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Farming

Pembrokeshire farming couple honoured at Downing Street reception

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MIKE and Joy Smith from Pembrokeshire were among the select few invited to a prestigious reception at 10 Downing Street, recognising their outstanding contribution to farming and food production. The couple, who are well-regarded pillars of the local farming community, were nominated by Stephen Crabb MP to attend the event which celebrated Food and Farming Champions across the nation.

Farming is more than just an occupation in rural communities like Pembrokeshire; it is a way of life that has sustained families for generations. The Smiths, who farm in partnership with their brothers at Parc Y Marl near Llysyfran and Pelcomb Farm near Haverfordwest respectively, embody the dedication and passion that characterise this vital industry.

Their commitment to fostering the next generation of farmers and ensuring the sustainability of the sector is well acknowledged. “It was a real pleasure to nominate my good friends and outstanding Pembrokeshire farming couple, Mike and Joy Smith, to attend a reception for Food and Farming Champions in 10 Downing Street today,” said Stephen Crabb, expressing his pride in the couple’s achievements and their significant role in feeding the nation.

Before the celebration at No. 10, the Smiths were treated to an exclusive tour of the Houses of Parliament. They had the unique opportunity to watch live debates from the viewing galleries, witnessing firsthand the legislative process in both the House of Lords and the House of Commons.

The recognition of Mike and Joy Smith serves as a reminder of the critical role farmers play in maintaining the supply of local produce and sustaining the agricultural heritage of regions like Pembrokeshire. Their story is a testament to the hard work, resilience, and community spirit that underpin the farming industry.

As the local community and indeed the nation continue to benefit from the dedication of farmers like Mike and Joy, the message is clear: without farmers, there is no food. The recognition at Downing Street not only honours their personal contributions but also shines a light on the broader significance of farming in ensuring food security and preserving rural ways of life.

Stephen Crabb MP, in acknowledging the contributions of the Smiths and the wider farming community, extended his gratitude: “Thank you to Mike, Joy, and all farmers in Pembrokeshire for your role in helping to keep local produce on our plates.” This sentiment resonates with the appreciation felt by those who understand the importance of farming to our daily lives and the fabric of rural communities across the UK.

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Farming

Thousands of farmers descend on Cardiff to say: ‘Enough is enough!’

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THOUSANDS of farmers and supporters converged outside the Senedd in Cardiff, Wales, to voice their strong opposition to the Welsh Government’s proposed Sustainable Farming Scheme (SFS) and other contentious issues threatening the agricultural sector. The protest, marked by a sea of placards bearing the stark message “No Farmers, No Food,” highlighted the depth of the farming community’s fears for its future.

The demonstration, the latest in a month-long series of actions across Wales, saw farmers, many arriving on tractors, gather to contest plans they argue would compel them to sacrifice a significant portion of their land for environmental purposes. With estimates suggesting that the scheme could lead to 5,500 job losses, the stakes for the agricultural community and rural Wales are high.

Despite police estimates putting the crowd at around 3,000, below the anticipated 10,000 to 20,000, the turnout was a record for a protest of this nature outside the Welsh Parliament. The demonstration saw a mix of solemnity and spirited resistance, with the Welsh song ‘Yma O Hyd’ resonating amongst the crowd, symbolising steadfastness and resilience.

At the demonstration, notable figures lent their voices to the farmers’ cause. Andrew RT Davies, leader of the Welsh Conservatives in the Senedd, was seen engaging with protesters, underscoring the political dimensions of the dispute.

Sam Kurtz MS, from Pembrokeshire, addressing the protest

Sam Kurtz, another Conservative MS, told the crowd that he was a farmer’s son. He told the gathering that he would fight tirelessly for the farming community.

Afterwards he told The Pembrokeshire Herald: “It was the proudest moment of my life addressing the farmers in Cardiff Bay today. Made prouder still that my father was there.

“The momentum is with the industry now and whomever becomes Wales’ next First Minister, and next Rural Affairs Minister, must work hard on the SFS, NVZs, and Bovine Tb, to repair a broken relationship between government and the agricultural sector.

“Can I thank all those who attended the protest for the respect and order that they showed.

“It was the largest of its kind and if the message hasn’t got through to the Welsh Government now, I’m not sure it ever will.”

Tractors lined the outskirts of Cardiff as the protest took place

Perhaps more movingly, Nigel Owens, renowned former international rugby referee and a farmer himself, addressed the crowd from the Senedd steps. Owens, comparing the protest’s significance to his experience refereeing the 2015 World Cup final, underscored the fundamental role of farming: “There can be no Six Nations game in Cardiff next Saturday against France if there is no referee. There can be no food on the table if there are no farmers.”

The protest was not just a platform for airing grievances but also a moment for collective expression of a deep-seated love for farming and the rural way of life. Ioan Humphreys, a fifth-generation farmer, poignantly articulated this sentiment, emphasizing the fight for the future of young farmers and the unity required to overcome current challenges. “I’m also here to make sure as farmers stick together and unite through this time of hardship,” Humphreys stated, capturing the protest’s spirit of solidarity.

Rhun ap Iorwerth, leader of Plaid Cymru, reiterated the essential bond between Wales and its agricultural heartland, advocating for government support at all levels to ensure the vitality of rural Wales. His call for action highlighted the broader implications of the proposed changes, touching on the sustainability of rural communities, biodiversity, and the Welsh economy at large.

The protest, while a manifestation of immediate concerns over the SFS, also brought to the fore ongoing frustrations with the Welsh Government’s anti-water pollution measures and the persistent challenge of TB in cattle. The demonstration’s peaceful nature, emphasized by South Wales Police’s statement, belied the deep undercurrents of anxiety and determination among the farming community.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s interaction with the rural community at the Welsh Conservative Party Conference in Llandudno, where he assured farmers of his support, underscores the national significance of the issues at stake. Meanwhile, the Welsh Government’s assurance of its willingness to listen and adapt the proposed scheme following consultation reflects the dynamic and contentious process of policy-making in areas critical to national interest and well-being.

As the protest unfolded, with wellington boots symbolically placed in front of speakers, the agricultural community’s message was clear: the future of farming, and by extension, the fabric of rural Wales, hangs in the balance. The collective call for support, understanding, and meaningful engagement from the government resonated beyond the steps of the Senedd, touching the hearts of many across Wales and beyond.

This convergence of farmers at the Senedd, while a significant moment, represents just one chapter in an ongoing dialogue between the agricultural community and policymakers. As Wales navigates the complexities of environmental conservation, economic sustainability, and rural livelihoods, the voices of those gathered in Cardiff Bay will undoubtedly continue to echo in the halls of power, reminding all of the indispensable value of farmers to the nation’s past, present, and future.

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Farming

Cardiff farming protest set to be largest in Senedd history

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A MASSIVE protest is set to get underway in Cardiff today (Wednesday, Feb 28) as farmers from across Wales descend on the Senedd to voice their opposition against the Welsh Government’s proposed Sustainable Farming Scheme (SFS).

The demonstration, expected to draw between 10,000 to 20,000 participants, marks a pivotal moment for the agricultural community, highlighting widespread concern over the future of farming in Wales.

The controversy centers on post-Brexit agriculture reforms, with the Welsh Government insisting on a transformative approach to farming subsidies. Under the new SFS, farmers would be required to allocate 20% of their land to environmental measures, including a 10% commitment to tree planting and another 10% to wildlife habitat creation.

These proposals have sparked fears of job losses and significant impacts on farm incomes, with unions forecasting up to 5,500 direct job losses.

In anticipation of the protest, First Minister Mark Drakeford, alongside shadow rural affairs minister Sam Kurtz and Welsh Tory Senedd group leader Andrew RT Davies, has called for a de-escalation of tensions. Drakeford emphasised the need for “conciliation” and a constructive dialogue with the farming community, rejecting accusatory rhetoric in favour of collaborative problem-solving.

This stance was echoed during a session of First Minister’s Questions, where the importance of positive engagement and the recognition of food production as a critical component of the SFS were highlighted.

Despite these calls for calm, the debate has intensified, with accusations flying in the Senedd. A notable clash occurred when Andrew RT Davies accused Alun Davies MS of dismissing protesting farmers as “cranks” – a charge vehemently denied by Davies, who clarified his comments were aimed at a specific group rather than the wider farming community.

The protest, which is set to be one of the largest in Senedd history, will not only see convoys of tractors and coaches filled with protestors but also aims to symbolically highlight the stakes with 5,500 pairs of wellington boots placed on the Senedd steps on March 6. South Wales Police have issued warnings of potential travel disruptions, advising the public of slow-moving traffic and possible restricted vehicle access around the protest area.

Despite these challenges, the police have expressed their respect for the right to peaceful protest, working to ensure safety and minimal public disruption.

As the SFS consultation draws to a close on March 7, the Welsh Government remains firm on its stance, urging participation in the consultation process and hinting at possible adjustments to the scheme.

The farming community’s response, articulated through mass protest and vocal criticism, underscores a deep-rooted anxiety about the future of Welsh agriculture. With both sides standing their ground, the coming days are critical in shaping the trajectory of rural Wales and the sustainability of its farming heritage.

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