Alwyn Hughes, left, demonstrates the improved soil quality on his farm at Llwynau to Plaid Cymru councillor Wyn Jones and North Wales MS Llyr Gruffydd
A Welsh farmer has taken inspiration from novel farming practices in Africa to change the way he manages his land in the Conwy Valley.
Alwyn Hughes who farms at Llwynau near Capel Garmon, said the Covid lockdown had prompted him to look again at how he manages his upland farm.
For the past 18 months he has been moving his 500 livestock from field to field to intensively graze before allowing the grassland to recover.
He describes it as “working with nature” and says he can already see the benefits of a richer soil after just 18 months. Mr Hughes said: “By moving the sheep from field to field – sometimes on a daily basis – we’re seeing them graze the most energy-rich new pasture while allowing other fields to recover more fully. This is a long-term project but I’m already seeing results in terms of better soil – it’s richer and more able to absorb water coming off the mountain.
“Poor soil quality in the past has meant farmers spending money on enriching it – this is a more organic and holistic way of approaching the problem that does away with that additional cost.
“Even at this early stage, I can see benefit for the farmer, the environment, the animals and better quality food for the consumer.”
On a farm visit to see the ongoing work, Plaid Cymru’s North Wales MS Llyr Gruffydd said innovation had been a staple of Welsh farming for generations. He added: “I visited Llwynau with local councillor Wyn Jones because farming has to continually innovate, especially in light of the twin challenges of climate change and the result of leaving the EU and changes to farm incomes as a result.
“Alwyn is conducting a real-time experiment with his own farm and I was impressed at the early results in terms of the soil quality and the potential benefits to other farmers in terms of maximising yield while also minimising spending on having to enrich the soil. Instead organic manure and working with nature is the norm and it will be very interesting to see how the experiment develops over the years.
“The focus that COP26 has given us in terms of dealing with climate change and reducing our carbon footprint means that each and every opportunity that farmers – as well as the wider community – has to deliver improvements should be examined. I’d like to see this pioneering work subject to examination. It’s important that we establish a baseline for work to be ongoing so that we can measure results year on year. This kind of grazing rotation has helped to resist desertification in parts of Africa and, if it can help enrich the grasslands of upland Wales, I’m all for it. Alwyn Hughes is making an important contribution to a much wider debate we need in the agricultural community and it deserves a wider platform.”