See how changing farming practices are being implemented and the learning shared.
Tom and Beth Evans farm at Pendre, a sheep farm at Llanfihangel y Creuddyn near Aberystwyth.
Since 2019, Pendre has been a Demonstration Site for the Welsh Government’s Farming Connect programme which helps farms research, trial and implement more efficient and profitable ways of managing their businesses. The results are then shared to encourage learning across Wales’ agricultural sector.
Before the farm became a Demonstration Site, the Evans family had already experimented with rotational grazing. Rotational grazing refers to a system whereby livestock is concentrated on a smaller area of pasture by subdividing larger fields into paddocks and moved every few days, Tom says:
"We started to keep the sheep in a tighter group and move them every two to three days to a different paddock. It means that it gives the fields a rest and allows the grass to grow. The sheep wouldn’t revisit a paddock until around 22 to 30 days had passed, depending on the weather and the season."
"Giving the fields a rest period means that the root structure of the grass is improved and banks up energy. The grass then grows a lot faster. We’re growing a third more grass a year so we have halved our use of concentrate feed. The benefits have been financial as well as environmental."
With bought-in feed consisting of soya and coming from the other side of the world, there is a big carbon saving in terms of shipping miles.
And there are early indications which show that rotational grazing increases soil organic matter. This helps to sequester, or store, carbon which means it is not emitted into the atmosphere.
Farming Connect recently hosted a live webinar from Pendre and explained that if levels of sequestered carbon were increased by just 0.3%, the farm would be in a negative carbon position which means it absorbs more carbon than it releases, Tom adds:
“I have also been able to increase my stocking rates on the farm so outputs per hectare have risen.”
The West Wales farmer has attended Farming Connect’s Prosper from Pasture programme which encouraged him to give it a try:
"We farm at a fairly small scale so we need to make the most of what we’ve got. Land is very expensive and I’d struggle to buy, so I think that really drives us to be more innovative."
Prosper from Pasture is a continuous professional development programme that aims to develop knowledge and confidence in managing pasture. Since Tom joined the programme, it has evolved and now offers education at entry level, master grass and advanced level.
The programme was funded by Farming Connect and delivered by Precision Grazing Ltd who have advised the Evans family and helped them measure their progress.
As a Demonstration Site, Pendre hosted an open day so that other farmers can find out more about what has been achieved as well as lessons to learn for the future.
On top of farming duties at Pendre, Tom is employed by Welsh Lamb and Beef Producers Ltd while wife Beth is a deputy headteacher at a local school. The husband-and-wife team has also recently diversified into a pick your own pumpkin venture and are hoping to achieve planning permission for glamping pods:
"I think Farming Connect was keen that we were involved as a Demonstration Site because it’s becoming more and more common to see farmers who have a second job."
And as Wales drives towards its ambition of becoming Net Zero by 2030, Tom believes farming will undergo immense changes:
"There are significant changes in the pipeline. I think farming will need new skills and we’ll need to live without so many supplements like nitrogen and feed. In the future, I think we’ll see a standardised tool to measure a farm’s carbon footprint and that will give farmers a real starting point."
Rhodri Jones from Menter a Busnes agrees:
"The current environmental and financial pressures have really focused farmers' minds to develop their knowledge and adopt new skills in order to reach our net zero target within the industry. We are seeing several businesses similar to Tom's within the Prosper from Pasture programme that are significantly reducing their inputs whilst maintaining high levels of production through improved grazing management and investment in grazing infrastructure."
If you would like to find out more about reducing carbon and the comprehensive range of support services, guidance, training events and online tools, please visit the Farming Connect website.