FROM the flatlands of the Netherlands to the different climate zones of Sweden and from the lush pastures in County Mayo to the forests of Cologne – are you a farmer or forester whose business would benefit by seeing how successful businesses operate in other European countries?

Farming Connect is now searching for the next intake of focused and ambitious farmers and foresters keen to enhance their business competitiveness and profit levels through participation in its fully-funded Management Exchange programme 2019.

Since the launch of the highly successful programme in 2016, 14 farmers and foresters have visited businesses throughout the UK and other European countries, broadening their knowledge, technical ability and management expertise. Many are already implementing new and improved ways of working and are a step closer to running resilient, sustainable businesses that can complete in a global marketplace, despite the uncertain trading conditions widely expected post-Brexit.

Could you be one of the fortunate individuals selected for the 2019 programme?  The funding rate for successful candidates is 100%, up to a maximum of £4,000 with costs reclaimed after the visit or hosting period.

“We want to encourage applications from eligible farmers and foresters registered with Farming Connect across all sectors of working,” says Einir Davies, development and mentoring manager with Menter a Busnes, which delivers Farming Connect.  Farming Connect is funded by Welsh Government and the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development.

“This is a fantastic opportunity to see at first-hand how some of the most successful businesses in Europe operate and what you learn will not only impact on the way you run your business, but the knowledge will also be shared with the wider industry in Wales through Farming Connect.

“If you feel you would benefit from a visit to a farm or forestry business within the EU, and might also be interested in hosting an experienced farm or forest manager currently working in the EU at your home holding, we would urge you to apply as soon as you can.

“Successful applicants will either undertake or host a visit and two-way exchange visits will be encouraged but are not essential,” added Ms. Davies.

The aims of the Management Exchange programme are to enable both parties to identify developmental opportunities both at a personal and business level, and to facilitate the transfer and application of knowledge into innovative or advanced best practice which they can implement at home and share with the wider industry in Wales. Successful participants will be expected to disseminate findings from their learning experience through Farming Connect’s usual communications channels and events programme.

The application process for the Management Exchange 2019 programme will for the first time involve a two-stage process. The application window for Stage 1 is open now and will close at midnight on 30 November 2018. The new process allows enables applicants to make an initial outline application which sets out their chosen topic, the reasons for choosing it and their plans for sharing what they learn from the exchange with the wider industry. If approved they will then proceed to Stage 2, which is open from 1 December 2018 to 31 January 2019, which requires a more detailed proposal, at which time fully-funded mentoring support will be available.

Reports from previous candidates’ exchange visits are available on the Farming Connect website where you will also find information on all this year’s successful candidates and the visits they are planning.

For more detailed information on the benefits of the programme, Terms & Conditions, eligibility criteria and to download application forms visit www.gov.wales/farmingconnect. For further information call Gwenno Griffiths at Menter a Busnes on 01970 631414 or email: gwenno.griffiths@menterabusnes.co.uk

Farming Connect Management Exchange case studies

Lucy Allison, a dairy farmer from North Pembrokeshire visited Southern Ireland in 2017

Lucy Allison, a dairy adviser with a locally based agri-consultancy company

and her husband’s family run a 400 acre dairy farm in North Pembrokeshire. They have 250 Holstein Friesian dairy cows which are predominantly autumn calving. The aim is for the herd to be milked three times a day throughout the autumn and winter and milked twice a day and turned out to graze in the spring and summer months.

The farm currently supplies approximately 2.5 million litres of milk a year on a cheese contract. Lucy was aware that apart from New Zealand, which has a completely different climate to the UK, Ireland has been a world leader in grazing strategies for more than a decade.

The purpose of her exchange visit was to investigate how different breeds and grass leys effect the constituents in milk within a rotational grazing system, and to maximise kg solids produced/ha.

Lucy is responsible for the farm’s grazing management. Her role includes inputting all the necessary data to calculate and plan grazing allocation throughout the summer.

“My Management Exchange visit enabled me to visit the Positive Farmers Conference in Southern Ireland in January 2017, where I was completely inspired by what I learned through presentations from some of the world’s foremost dairy and grassland specialists.”

She also visited one of Ireland’s leading research farms, where again messages were reiterated that introducing better quality leys through reseeding would help maximise forage intake and influence solids produced.

As a result of her exchange, the farm business is steadily re-seeding parts of the grazing platform, and they are now seeing the success through grass measuring.

“We started using a plate meter last year which enables us to forward budget the grass according to the number of cows and daily grass growth.

“We are starting to see positive results and should be able to maximise grass intake and utilisation to produce more milk from forage.”

“My exchange visit taught me to be more open minded and to consider other ways of improving our own farming systems.

“I listened to all the professional advice and there’s no doubt that by putting into practice what I learned, we’re already seeing a steady improvement in the utilisation of grass which is leading to surplus forage being harvested and ensiled, saving money on bought in feed.”

Lucy also attended a Farming Connect Wales Master Grass workshop in April 2018 which has given her more hands-on experience in grass budgeting.

Click here for Lucy’s full Management Exchange report.

John Ceiriog Jones, a sheep farmer from Denbighshire, visited Southern Ireland in 2016

John Ceiriog Jones has been a sheep farmer all his life, yet he says that his Management Exchange visit to Southern Ireland in 2016 reinforced his determination to address cobalt deficiency in sheep which can have a huge affect on their growth rates, body condition and overall flock performance.

John, who is also a part time farm assurance assessor, is convinced that what he has learned will have a significant impact for many sheep breeders in Wales, who he says need to collectively ‘up their game’ ahead of Brexit.

John farms a 250 acre upland holding near Corwen where he keeps around 550 mainly Welsh mules crossed with Beulah speckle face, together with some Texel and Suffolks. Ewe lambs are retained as replacements. He grows 10 acres of swedes annually and reseeds up to 20 acres every year to achieve good production from grass. Fields are soil tested every three years with lime applied as required to get a pH of over 6.

“The farm has improved and the sheep have a plentiful grass-based diet, but we found that stock, especially lambs, did not thrive as hoped because we discovered there were insufficient trace elements and vitamins, and in particular cobalt, being transferred from the soil to the young leys.

“Seven years ago we ran a trial to finish lambs on swedes but it proved disappointing with poor liveweight gains. I sought veterinary advice and was advised to give the lambs a cobalt, copper, selenium and iodine bolus.”

Over the last four years John has used Mayo Healthcare Boluses to aid growth and finishing of the lambs. There was an immediate response, with lambs thriving and gaining an average of two kilos in weight without supplementary creep feed.

“We use a six month bolus for ewes pre-tupping, giving good scanning results and an easy lambing time with vigorous lambs at birth,” says John.

Thanks to Teagasc, the Irish Agriculture and Food Development Authority, John was introduced to some of Ireland’s top animal health experts and visited a number of leading farm businesses.

He learned that neither soil sampling which tends to focus on the P and K and PH rather than trace elements and vitamins, nor blood testing the sheep necessarily flag up a cobalt deficiency.

John was told that it has taken years for many vets to get on board with this thinking, but finally most are accepting that the miniscule amounts of selenium and cobalt in wormers are insufficient to make a tangible difference to weight gain.

Thanks to using slow-releases boluses which provide a regular supply of cobalt, John is now getting positive results. He gives all lambs a micro bolus at around 5-6 weeks of age, easily administered with a drenching gun.  Each capsule costs just 24p and provides 6-8 weeks cover. He adds that when required, more expensive, bigger boluses for older sheep are still easy for the animals to swallow and says that any competent stockperson will find them straightforward to administer.

“Going on a fully-funded Management Exchange visit to Ireland, widely acknowledged as industry leaders in sheep production, means that  by addressing cobalt deficiency through the introduction of boluses and by implementing an improved feeding and grassland management strategy, we should continue to get better results.”

Click here for John’s full Management Exchange report.

Alwyn Phillips a beef and sheep farmer from Gwynedd visited Sweden and Denmark in 2017.

Alwyn Phillips is a beef and sheep farmer from Caernarfon. The purpose of his six-day Management Exchange visit to Sweden and Denmark was to learn about differences in the approaches used for cervical artificial insemination (AI) in Denmark and Sweden compared to the UK. He also wanted to find out what would be needed to enhance the cervical AI programme using frozen semen, particularly for sheep, in Wales

Alwyn was aware that Sweden, Denmark and the Netherlands are at the forefront of technology which uses frozen semen via cervical AI in sheep. It’s a practice which is currently more advanced and widespread in these countries than it is in the UK. He was eager to find out whether it was a system he could introduce for his own flock of 200 Poll Dorset and 200 Texel ewes and more generally by sheep farmers in Wales.

Alwyn found the farmers and experts he visited very open in sharing their expertise, their successes, and equally important, what they had learned from failures.  He said they also appreciated his honest approach to sharing his own experiences with them.

He learned that cervical insemination using frozen semen will initially be taken up by pedigree breeders but also by more innovative commercial lamb producers, provided they can achieve 70% conception rates using cheaper semen like ‘bull of the day’ in the cattle.

AI has significantly improved the performance of the dairy industry through better genetics, whilst the sheep industry has been slow to embrace AI. The main reason being that in cattle, the inseminator can penetrate the cervix and deposit the frozen semen directly into the uterus whilst in the ewe it is nearly impossible to penetrate the cervix as it’s so tortuous.

However, having now seen at first hand just how successful the technique can be, Alwyn feels that training courses for sheep farmers could be one of first steps needed in Wales.

“Farming Connect already provides subsidised training for AI in cattle, so I’m hoping that they may consider extending this for sheep farmers too.

“Once trained, the breeder can have a flask on farm holding semen from different proven rams to be used on selected ewes” said Alwyn who is clear about the proven advantages of AI.

“AI offers access to superior genetics, reduces risks of importing diseases and a wider choice of proven rams”.

“It allows the purchase of semen from rams to improve the individual ewe’s weaker EBVs, while avoiding risk of in-breeding.”

Alwyn said it would be cheaper to buy semen from proven rams than having to pay a high price for a stock ram which may not improve the flock and in some instances may have a relatively brief working life in a natural mating system.

To make sheep farming profitable farmers need healthy soils, healthy grass and superior genetics but Alwyn believes that cervical insemination using frozen semen is an important component as the way forward.

“We need to reduce our production costs and our carbon footprint per kg of lamb produced. Also, grass-fed lambs have a higher content of health-promoting Omega 3.

“Following my visit, we will be cervically inseminating our sheep this autumn using frozen semen.”

Click here for Alwyn’s full Management Exchange report.

Gethin Owen, a beef and sheep farmer from Abergele visited France in 2016/17

Gethin Owen farms 700 ewes and 35 suckler cows in partnership with his parents at Nant-yr-Efail near Abergele. The family have 300 acres of owned and rented land, mostly down to grass, with around 30 acres of spring barley or oats grown for wholecrop and combining.

The farm has a fairly typical system comprising of a crossbred flock lambing indoors in March and a draft Welsh ewe flock lambing outdoors in April, with lambs sold deadweight to St.Merryn.

The suckler cows calve in April and May with half the offspring sold as 18-month stores, and half finished at 24 months. Gethin attempts to optimise production from home-grown forage, with as little bought-in inputs as possible.

Having spent a significant amount of time in France over many years, when he inspired by much of what he saw of the industry and levels of co-operation between farmers, Gethin used his Management Exchange visit to identify efficiencies within French beef and sheep production in the hope that he could implement some of these at home. He was also keen to study the methods used to mitigate soil degradation and improve production under marginal conditions.

“The two main issues that we face at home are firstly, how we grow cereals on the farm. Growing cereals alongside livestock helps the farm be more self-sufficient and greatly enhances biodiversity.

“Over the years, we have grown spring cereals using the conventional plough method, but with our rocky thin soil, although grown in rotation with a grass/clover ley, I was still concerned about its long-term degradation, as well as it being financially costly.”

One of the exchange farms Gethin visited was on similar marginal soils, and had been using a mintill system for 15 years that included a permanent living cover crop of legumes, a system pioneered by Hubert Charpentier. My aim was to identify elements of this system that could be used on my own farm.

Secondly, Gethin, who despite always looking at ways in which he can improve production through for example improving grazing management, is concerned about the long-term sustainability of beef and sheep production on the farm.

“As much of our farm comprises of marginal rocky, steep land down to permanent pasture, I was conscious that in order to prepare for the future, the farm will need to produce more from less input (especially in the form of bought-in feed, fertiliser, labour and machinery), whilst also improving soils.”

Gethin is already making extensive changes as a result of his exchange visit, and is now implementing a min-till system to grow cereals with clover as a companion crop, that could be also utilised for autumn grazing.

He is also investing in infrastructure and equipment that will enable him to intensively graze the farm, adopting a true ‘mob-grazing’ system on the rockier parts of the farm by grazing higher covers and allowing more trampling-in to build soil, fertility and improve resilience to summer dry and winter wet conditions.

Click here for Gethin’s full Management Exchange report

Sonia Winder, a chartered forester from Carmarthenshire, visited Germany in 2017

Sonia Winder is a chartered forester who has worked for Tilhill Forestry in Wales for 20 years. She currently manages 800 hectares of mixed forest, is involved in woodland creation and also undertakes forestry contract work.

Sonia visited Germany because its species and forest practice are similar to Wales, but they have been practising continuous cover silviculture for much longer. Wales as a whole has 306,000 ha of forest, of which 41% is owned and managed by the state, mainly Natural Resources Wales and the remainder is in private hands. The forest in the Rhine-Sieg-Erft district which Sonia visited covers 60,000 hectares, but the breakdown is similar, being 43% state forest and 57% private. The climate is similar too, with average temperatures in that area of 7-10 degrees celsuis and average rainfall of 700 – 1100 mm per annum

The aim of Sonia’s exchange visit was to see how our German counterparts look after their woodlands while facing the same challenges with environmental and biodiversity constraints, as well addressing the new challenges posed by climate change, pests and diseases. Her secondary objective was to look at German use of non-timber products, such as venison, wild boar, seeds, foliage and firewood, which all provide additional sources of income for forest owners.

Germany is justifiably proud of its sustainable forest management, and has been managing woodlands over hundreds of years, whereas Wales has only being doing it on a large scale for the last century.

“I was fascinated to see how German foresters are managing to preserve biodiversity and the natural preservation of some of their native species such as spruce and Scotch pine, and to learn how they deal with threats from pests and diseases,” says Sonia.

She said that one of the most important facts that German foresters acknowledge is that restocking done today isn’t merely for your own benefit as a landowner, it’s for the benefit of future generations.

“With broadleaves, rotation lengths are a minimum of 70 years. The reason why Germany has such high-quality broadleaved stands today is because they were intensively managed post-war.”

Her hosts emphasised that species choices taken today will impact on forest viability in the next century.

“Plant what’s right for the site, not what attracts the best grant rate at the moment,” was a message I heard repeated a number of times.”

Sonia also learned that quality hardwoods need to start at year one, with planting spacing of 2 x 1m not 2 x 2m or 3 x 3m.

“This doubles the planting cost but yields thinnings and ultimately better-quality final crop trees.”

Sonia felt that German foresters were very aware of how climate change is affecting countries throughout Europe, who she says should be starting to adapt their choice of species and silviculture to be more tolerant of extremes – wind, drought, floods and warmer winter temperatures, which of course don’t kill pests and pathogens.

“There was much to learn from my German counterparts, but they were interested in our approach too, which was good to hear.

“They are clearly impressed with the UKs’ approach to chemical reduction rather than the total ban on use of chemicals in the forest – currently Germany’s approach – because carefully targeted chemicals will help trees to grow.

Sonia’s visit included meetings with a number of successful foresters in Cologne and Bonn, who like foresters throughout Europe, are trying to find ways of dealing with forest pests and diseases which are on the increase due to the movement of products and materials around the world.

“My visit confirmed that here is a place for continuous cover forestry in Wales.

“Practice makes perfect and we haven’t been doing it as long as the Germans, but there is a lot we can learn from their systems so if we keep things simple and have a clear vision for the future of Wales’ woodlands, we can work in harmony for the benefit of the whole forest ecosystem.”

Click here for Sonia’s full Management Exchange report.

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