I am so pleased that British Grassland Society director Elaine Jewkes has secured money from the Prince’s Countryside Fund to train farmer mentors, so they can go out and help other farmers gain more from grazing.
In the latest issue of Grass and Forage Farmer magazine, Somerset beef producer Ed Green talks about why he has joined the BGS Grazing Mentors scheme:
- You are never too old to learn
- Learning from an experienced farmer
- Wanting to grow the best possible grass and forage
- Wanting to maximise grass utilisation an convert it into saleable goods
- Learning how to measure and monitor grass
- Preparing for earlier grazing
- I am open to new views, ideas and possibilities
Based near Shepton Mallet, Ed runs 1500 beef animals on custom growing contracts, bringing them to 460kg liveweight, before they move on for finishing. Covering 324ha, his grassland includes red and white clover leys and permanent pastures in Higher Level Stewardship.
Previously a dairy farm, Ed has moved to just growing beef cattle since 2004.
“We are in an excellent location to grow cattle from grass and make good red cover silage to give us more protein,” says Ed. “It is a low cost and flexible system, but there is still room for improvement.”
Ed mob grazes batches of 150 to 200 animals, avoiding using electric fences by adapting the number of stock according to field size and available grazing.
2017 will see Ed introduce a new enterprise onto the farm, as he sets out to establish a suckler herd of Stabilisers. This will present additional questions around the use of grazing and forage to maintain cow condition.
“It will be interesting to work with my mentor, dairy farmer Simon Martin, to come up with a cost-effective regime for the cows, that will not make them too fat!”
Ed is keen to prove that lowland suckler herds can be profitable.
“Excellent grassland management skills will be essential and the BGS mentor programme will help me achieve this.”
Ed completed his first session with Simon, in the summer and has already put several steps they discussed in place: including walking the fields more regularly to assess available grazing, continuing to look into grass measurement tools and grazing budgeting software and planning autumn nitrogen use.
Other ideas being considered are pre-mowing certain pastures and the prospect of making less silage and grazing the animals more.
Ed and Simon will have a follow-up session to track progress, and Ed knows he can contact Simon between sessions with additional queries as they arise.
So far the mentoring has garnered Ed’s own passion for grass and collected his ideas into a workable action plan. He is now linking up with local grassland groups, which will provide an ongoing forum for knowledge exchange and encouragement.
Mentoring is not about farmers going to tell people what to do – it is more about listening and offering helpful guidance. The mentors bring experience, knowledge and contacts, as well as a genuine passion to support others.
Simon says: “I became a BGS grazing mentor in 2010, when Sara Gregson set up the first three-year scheme, having seen it working successfully in Canada when she was on her Nuffield Scholarship.
“I have wholeheartedly enjoyed helping other farmers improve their grazing and then go on to develop profitable businesses.”
Visit British Grassland or call the BGS office on 01270 616464 for an application form; or Charlotte.Evans on 07833.437974. BGS will put you in contact with a mentor – subject to availability.
This article has been edited from an article in the December 2016 issue of Grass and Forage Farmer, the farmer magazine of the British Grassland Society.