Farming Connect Demonstrator farm is trailing new dual crops to replace bought-in feed.
Pant y Deri is a beef, sheep and arable farm in North Pembrokeshire run by father and son, Wyn and Eurig Jones.
It is a demonstration site for the Welsh Government’s Farming Connect programme which, since 2015, has been helping 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.
In 2021, the Jones’ were approached by Farming Connect with a new trial project. It wanted to explore whether farms could benefit from replacing the bought-in protein feed for beef cattle by growing a dual crop of high protein peas and beans.
What started out as a project to cut costs and be more self-sufficient as a farm has had net zero benefits too.
"It has been a brilliant project and was really timely as feed has become so expensive. The aim was to fatten our cattle solely on our own home-grown feed. Last year, we grew 20 acres of the dual crop but I have planted 30 acres this year because it’s worked so well."
Wyn and Eurig plant the crop in April. In the first UK field trial of its kind, the peas and beans are both sown at full rate in the same field. As well as increasing yield of this valuable protein crop, this has advantages in that the peas cover the ground quickly suppressing weed development and the beans act as a scaffold for the peas.
"Obviously we get more yield out of the acreage by planting them together but because the beans act like a prop, it stops the peas from being blown over by the wind."
Harvested in late August or early September, the crop is then passed through a crimping machine and rolled flat. This means that the crop can be harvested at a higher moisture content rather than waiting an extra month before harvesting it dry. It also makes for a healthier feed for the cattle with less dust.
The crop is also nitrogen-fixing, which means that nodules on the plant roots capture atmospheric nitrogen, not only feeding the plant but also leaving residual nitrogen in the soil for the following winter’s wheat crop. As a result, Wyn and Eurig don’t need to purchase as much nitrogen fertiliser, a further saving of cost, time and carbon.
The crop also has other eco credentials:
"We’d have previously been shipping in soya from the other side of the world to feed the cattle and it would arrive in plastic packaging. Growing our own makes so much sense to us because we are cutting costs as well as reducing our carbon footprint."
And it is making a big difference in terms of net zero. Farming Connect was able to calculate that eliminating forty tonnes of the bought-in protein feed equates to a saving of 60 tonnes CO2e for the farm’s carbon footprint. A further 2.72 tonnes CO2e is also saved because of the reduction in bought-in fertiliser needed for the following wheat crop.
Wyn and Eurig are also saving money, improving efficiency and taking a green approach by using soil mapping technology. This allows them to apply lime and fertiliser according to individual zone requirements within fields, rather than applying at a blanket rate.
Through Farming Connect, Pantyderi has also had access to a farm carbon toolkit which has allowed them to analyse the farm’s carbon footprint. It also means they can compare their figures to similar farms in their discussion group and identify where further savings could be made.
They have also introduced a GPS system on their tractors which helps save fuel:
"The GPS ensures you don’t go over the same ground twice which, when you’re spreading fertiliser or even rolling a field, allows for more efficient use of fuel and inputs, saving you time and money plus it’s better for the environment."
Thanks to Farming Connect, he has also been mentored by Dr Delana Davies, a Knowledge Exchange Executive:
"Delana’s support has been invaluable. As a farmer, we can sometimes get stuck in the farming world but Farming Connect helps you embrace new ideas and new technologies. And if you ever need anything, Farming Connect is on hand to help and guide you. I’d recommend it to anyone."
Pantyderi is the first farm in Wales to trial the protein crop, but interest is now spreading:
"As a Demonstration Site, we receive support to try new things and innovate to see if we can be more efficient. And the results really do speak for themselves.
"I think, over time, we’ll see farming change massively as we drive towards net zero. Data and new technology will be a big part of it to help us be more efficient and more sustainable and that will benefit the environment too."
Dr Delana Davies explained:
"It has been a pleasure to work with Eurig who has been willing to embrace every opportunity to try out new technology like soil mapping and being the first to grow such a protein crop and find a way of harvesting it. Their aim as a Demonstration Site was to become more self-sufficient and resilient to outside influences, like global feed and fertiliser prices, and this has been achieved with the added bonus of significant cost savings to the business as well.
"In driving towards Net Zero, farmers will need support and expertise to evaluate what are very complex and varied situations on farms to help them understand their carbon balance and the carbon saving and carbon sequestration actions possible within their business operations."
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.