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Farming

Red clover plays important role in reducing livestock farm’s input costs

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PROTEIN-RICH red clover is helping a Welsh livestock farm achieve a total cost of production of less than £3/kg deadweight in its lambs.

Dafydd and Glenys Parry Jones have been farming organically at Maesllwyni since 2001, running a flock of 700 Texel and Aberfield cross ewes and 60 Hereford cross cattle on the upland holding near Machynlleth.

Red clover has been a key component in their system since then, and increasingly so – in the last three years cattle have been fattened solely on it and lambs spend their last two weeks before slaughter grazing these leys.

By continually fixing nitrogen and releasing it when grazed and cut, red clover is not only an important source of feed for the livestock at Maesllwyni but for soil health and nutrition too. At a recent Farming Connect open day at the farm, Mr Jones shared the knowledge he has gained from two decades of growing and feeding the crop.

Twenty hectares (ha) are grown within a rotation on 60ha of silage ground where fields are reseeded every 11 years. By favouring varieties including AberChianti and AberClaret, leys have a five year longevity if looked after, including by not grazing in the winter.

The crop is established in May after ploughing. The farm’s top soil layer is shallow therefore only the top 10cm are cultivated.

Oats, barley, peas and vetches are incorporated in the mix. “The arable mix cleans the field up and creates a canopy to keep the weeds down,’’ said Mr Jones.

The silage is mainly fed to pregnant ewes in the last two weeks before lambing.

Red clover seed is established at a depth of just 5mm and the arable silage at 7.5-10cm.

“We just let the arable seed sit on top of the furrows and find that it works fine,’’ said Mr Jones.

Establishment had previously been in July but by getting the seed into the ground in May it gives red clover an advantage in that first year. “The clover really starts to take off in the middle of the summer,’’ said Mr Jones.

The soil is chain harrowed and rolled after seeding. A bulky first cut is taken in June, the forage wilted for 24 hours, and a second, higher quality cut at the beginning of August, with 48-hour wilting.

“We cut the red clover at a young stage for silaging, to prevent the stem becoming unpalatable for sheep,’’ Mr Jones explains.

The first cut is clamped and the second preserved as big bales. A plastic conditioner is used on the mower to decrease leaf damage.

At over 18% protein, it is a protein-rich crop therefore it is established with companion grasses to provide fibre and energy to help retain that protein in the rumen for longer.

“Producing protein is one thing but you need to have something to absorb it,’’ said Mr Jones.

There are other benefits too from plants and herbs included in the mix, he said.

“Trefoil has tannins which help keep livestock healthy and, as our soils are low in copper, chicory helps to bring that mineral up the soil structure.’’

The target analysis for red clover silage is at least 18% protein, metabolic energy (ME) greater than 11, a digestibility (D) value of over 70 and dry matter at more than 30%.

“Clover doesn’t have a lot of sugar in it so I use an additive to help with the ensiling and to quickly get the pH level down,’’ said Mr Jones.

He doesn’t allow red clover to grow too high before turning sheep onto it. “The stem mustn’t get too thick because the sheep don’t like it when it gets to that stage.’’

For grazing, ewes and lambs get priority in the spring, to get lambs fattened and sold, and after 1 July it is cattle that get the first bite.

“We fatten lambs on red clover but not for too long otherwise they get too big and fat,’’ Mr Jones explained. They are grazed for two weeks and then weighed.

No concentrates are fed, largely thanks to the high-quality red and white clover silages and excellent grazing management.

This has helped decrease total cost of production to under £3/kg deadweight in lambs.

“In many systems it is the Single Farm Payment that is the profit but by keeping our costs down the lamb is the profit and the payment is a bonus,’’ said Mr Jones.

Carbon footprint in his lamb system is 11.4kg C02/kg liveweight. Cattle are finished at 20 months – they can achieve daily liveweight gains of up to 1.6kg when grazing red clover.

Soil is regularly sampled – the red clover and herbal ley fields consistently at 6-6.5pH. Healthy soils are important for beneficial insects too, such as the dung beetle, which is adept at recycling nutrients.

Lynfa Davies, Farming Connect Biodiversity Specialist, advised farmers attending the open day that the dung beetle plays a vital role in livestock systems through dung pat management and parasite control.

“Having good populations of dung beetles is a ‘win win’ as it reduces parasite loads as well as getting nutrients underground to feed that next flush of grass, and they also provide feed for other wildlife and birds,’’ she said.

Good populations of dung beetles also help reduce greenhouse gas emissions from livestock production as they draw faecal matter down into the soil. They are very vulnerable to anthelmintics, in particular ivermectins.

Ms Davies said, treating animals that have a proven parasite burden, by using faecal egg counting to establish worm levels, will promote and preserve dung beetle populations.

Grazing livestock all the year round is beneficial too as different species of dung beetle are prevalent at different times of the year.

“It doesn’t have to be prime cattle, perhaps some youngstock or sheep,’’ said Ms Davies. “If there are farms in the locality that have stock in fields all the year round that will help too.’’

The open day was facilitated by Farming Connect Red Meat Sector Officer Owain Pugh.

He said the Jones family were demonstrating how important crops like red clover were in reducing inputs.

“The image of Welsh farming is very important now and will be even more so in the future and cutting out proteins with high carbon footprints such as soya is paramount,’’ he said.

A number of projects trialling systems for reducing inputs are being carried out on the Farming Connect Our Farms network.

Farming

Conservatives challenge Welsh Government over farming scheme

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THE WELSH CONSERVATIVES have announced a debate in the Senedd, scheduled for July 17, 2024, focusing on the importance of Welsh farming and challenging the Welsh Labour Government’s approach to agricultural policy. The debate comes in the wake of ongoing concerns over the proposed Sustainable Farming Scheme (SFS) and its impact on the farming community.

The motion, brought forward by the Welsh Conservative Shadow Minister for Rural Affairs, James Evans MS, aims to highlight the critical role of farming in Wales. Evans criticised the Welsh Labour Government’s handling of agricultural issues, stating that the current SFS does not adequately support farmers and overlooks the essential contributions of the farming sector to the Welsh economy and rural communities.

“Labour continues to take our farmers for granted,” Evans said. “Unlike Labour, the Welsh Conservatives would make sure we have a Sustainable Farming Scheme that works for our farmers, not against them, safeguarding the future of our crucial industry.”

The motion to be debated reads:

  1. Celebration of Economic Contribution: The Senedd is urged to celebrate the valuable economic contribution of Welsh farming to the economy.
  2. Support for Rural Events: The motion acknowledges the benefits of events like the Royal Welsh Show and the National Eisteddfod in supporting rural communities and promoting Welsh culture and language.
  3. Opposition to Current SFS: It supports the strong opposition within the agricultural community against the current SFS, reinforcing the message “no farmers, no food.”
  4. Call for Government Action:
  • Ensure the new SFS has the support of the farming community, with food security and environmental protection at its core.
  • Work with the UK Government to expand on its minimal mention of farming in the general election manifesto and develop a comprehensive plan for farming across the UK.

The Welsh Labour Government has faced significant backlash over the SFS, particularly the requirements for farms to have at least 10% tree cover and 10% of land managed as semi-natural habitats. Farmers argue that these measures could take substantial portions of their land out of production, jeopardising their livelihoods.

Huw Irranca-Davies, Welsh Cabinet Secretary for Climate Change and Rural Affairs, has acknowledged these concerns and announced revisions to the SFS. The revised scheme, set to commence in 2026 with a preparatory phase in 2025, aims to balance environmental sustainability with economic viability. However, the Welsh Conservatives argue that more needs to be done to ensure the scheme truly supports farmers.

The upcoming debate is expected to be a crucial platform for discussing these issues and pushing for a more farmer-friendly approach to agricultural policy in Wales.

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Farming

Welsh Government revises Sustainable Farming Scheme after protests

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WELSH Cabinet Secretary for Climate Change and Rural Affairs, Huw Irranca-Davies, has announced that the Sustainable Farming Scheme (SFS) will commence in 2026, following a preparatory phase in 2025. This phase is intended to provide advice and support to farmers in advance of the scheme’s full implementation.

The SFS, which aims to create a sustainable agricultural sector in Wales, has been the subject of intense debate and protests from the farming community. Protests have been held across Wales, with significant demonstrations in March and April 2024. Farmers have raised concerns over the feasibility and financial implications of the scheme, particularly the requirements for farms to have at least 10% tree cover and 10% of land managed as semi-natural habitats. Many fear that these rules could take up to 20% of their land out of production, impacting their livelihoods.

In response to these concerns, Irranca-Davies published the Welsh Government’s revised plan on July 11, 2024. The consultation titled ‘Sustainable Farming Scheme: Keeping Farmers Farming’ received extensive feedback, leading to several key revisions:

  1. Revised Tree Cover Requirements: The 10% tree cover requirement has been clarified to apply only to suitable land, excluding areas unfit for planting or beyond a farmer’s control. This adjustment aims to reduce the burden on farmers while still promoting environmental benefits.
  2. Extended Timeline: The full implementation of the SFS is now scheduled for 2026, with a preparatory phase in 2025. This phase will offer advice and support to farmers to help them transition to the new scheme.
  3. Collaborative Development: The Welsh Government has established a Ministerial Roundtable to further engage with the farming community and other stakeholders. This forum will help shape the final design and implementation of the SFS, ensuring that it reflects the needs and concerns of all parties involved.
  4. Support and Stability Payments: During the transition period, farmers will receive Stability Payments to maintain their income levels. This measure is intended to mitigate financial instability as they adapt to the new requirements.
  5. Ongoing Consultation: The Carbon Sequestration Evidence Panel will continue to review and consider alternative proposals to enhance carbon sequestration within the scheme. The Government will provide periodic updates on the progress of these consultations throughout the year.

Irranca-Davies acknowledged the concerns raised by farmers, stating, “I know that this has been an unsettling time for many farmers and their families. We will continue to work at pace to finalise the scheme so that we can provide certainty about future support as soon as possible. By working together, we can ensure a sustainable agriculture industry in Wales for generations to come.”

Environmental groups such as RSPB Cymru and the Nature Friendly Farming Network support the scheme, emphasising the necessity of sustainable practices in the face of climate change. They argue that the revised scheme balances environmental stewardship with agricultural productivity.

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Farming

FUW sends message to Starmer for a fair annual funding for Welsh agriculture

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THE Farmers’ Union of Wales will waste no time in sending a clear message to the incoming UK Labour Government at Westminster that Wales seeks a fair, annual funding settlement of £450 million in EU CAP legacy funding to support food production, the rural economy and the work farmers do for the environment.

Winning a landslide general election at a time when Welsh farming faces an important crossroads, the UK Labour Party now has the opportunity to influence the future of rural Wales for decades to come.

Speaking in response to the results, FUW President Ian Rickman said: “Firstly, I would like to congratulate the newly elected Prime Minister and his party for a historic general election victory, and thank those MPs we have worked closely with over the past five years.

“This election has brought about considerable change to the political landscape of Wales, with a significant reduction in the number of constituencies, changes in boundaries, and now a new UK Labour Government holding a majority in Westminster.

“The FUW is not affiliated to any political party and is therefore prepared to engage and work with politicians from all parties to ensure the voices of Welsh farmers are heard.”

The FUW General Election Manifesto sets out the Union’s key priorities of the incoming government, focussing on securing a fair, multi-annual funding settlement of at least £450 million per year in EU CAP legacy funding for agriculture and rural development in Wales. The role of this support in underpinning food production, environmental protection and rural communities in Wales cannot be underestimated.

It is essential that the newly elected UK Government ensures that any future deals with other countries and trading blocs take a far more robust approach that protects UK farmers and food security. With that, food imports and exports must be subject to the same custom and standard controls which provides a level playing field between UK and EU producers.

The Union’s Manifesto also calls on the UK Government to introduce procurement policies that prioritise public body support for Welsh and British businesses and promote a more transparent supply chain.

“Whilst the direction of farming in Wales heavily depends on the development of devolved agricultural policies, we must not forget how decisions made by the incoming UK administration will effectively determine the degree of funding the Welsh Government has available to support agriculture and rural development. It will also rule the extent of which Welsh producers are expected to compete against producers in other UK nations and across the globe on various levels.

“This is why we will waste no time in contacting the newly elected MPs in Wales and those that take on influential roles in parliament to ensure that we outline our key priorities at an early stage.

“Despite the challenge of navigating an ever changing political landscape, our role as the FUW in lobbying governments for the best possible outcomes for Welsh agriculture remains constant and relentless,” said Ian Rickman.

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