Gwynedd farmer wins 2019 Royal Welsh Agricultural Society Grassland Trophy

16 July 2019

Welsh farmers are renowned as some of the world’s experts at growing grass as a crop and many of them compete for the annual All Wales Grassland Management Competition.

This prestigious competition is organised by the Federation of Welsh Grassland Societies (FWGS), in conjunction with Royal Welsh Agricultural Society and sponsored by HSBC.

“In stark contrast to the prolonged spell of dry weather preceding the farm visits for judging in 2018, the recent unsettled weather has presented very different problems with unseasonally cold weather and heavy rainfall in the preceding 2-3 weeks, resulting in often disappointing grass growth and substantial challenges associated with both grazing and the harvesting of silage.” commented the team of judges.

This year’s judges, technical expert, Dr Iwan Owen of Aberystwyth, HSBC Regional Agriculture Manager in Wales, Euryn Jones and last year’s winner, Mr Richard Rogers from Anglesey, visited five extremely good grassland farms over the course of the two-days of judging and are grateful to the finalists for their welcome and the excellent tours of their farms.

“The competition was very tight but we agreed unanimously on a very worthy winner. The final victorious nod went to a member of Merioneth Grassland Society - Mr Sam Carey, Rhiwlas Dairy Ltd, Rhiwlas, Y Bala, Gwynedd.

Rhiwlas is a shared farming venture with landowner Richard Price. They are milking approximately 480 spring calving NZ Friesian crossbred cows, Sam Carey and his team produced 19,610 litres/ha from their milking platform of 137ha with a stocking rate of 3.61 cows/ha and an average yield of 5,330 litres/cow in 2018. This represents an outstanding achievement when the farm’s challenging elevation of 150-300m and an annual rainfall of 1400mm are considered.

The herd is currently in its fifth season of production following a conversion from traditional beef and sheep farming, a considerable amount of pasture reseeding and the creation of an infrastructure of fencing, tracks and drinking water supplies.

In response to the challenges posed by climate and soils, the calving date has been moved approximately a fortnight, from Feb 7th to 20th, and this, allied to a milder winter and slightly earlier spring in 2019 has reduced concentrate usage drastically. The target for 2019 is to produce 5,600 litres/cow (450 kg milk solids) and 19,900 litres/ha (1,571 kg milk solids) from the milking platform from as close to 500 kg of concentrates/cow as possible and they currently seem well on track to achieving this.

The renting of an additional 33ha as a youngstock block and the introduction of fodder beet as a large part of their winter grazing as well as a slight reduction in herd size from 510 exemplifies how the system is continually evolving in order to improve youngstock performance, eliminate the need to purchase dry cow feed and reduce pressure on the land.

Sam leads a very young team of staff and believes that having ‘the right people on the bus’ will enable herd performance to improve as a result of improved teamwork and shared goals with a resultant improvement in staff quality of life as well.

Highly noteworthy, in addition to the production of 11.7-13.9 tonnes DM/ha/annum over the last four years in a very challenging environment was the very effective grazing management demonstrated under testing conditions. Also particularly praiseworthy, was the team ethos in the setting of goals and keeping all staff, including relief milkers, fully informed at all times, with obvious staff commitment and results.

Sam will receive his trophy on Tuesday 23 July at the Royal Welsh Show.