Mentoring Helps Farmer Strengthens Business

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James Ruggeri runs a mixed flock of 200 ewes on 50 acres of upland at Gwaelod-y-Rhos, near Llanfair Caereinon

A Powys lamb producer says the performance of his farm and flock has never been so good thanks to mentoring.

James Ruggeri runs a mixed flock of 200 ewes on 50 acres of upland at Gwaelod-y-Rhos, near Llanfair Caereinon.

His parents, both teachers, had bought the holding in 1989 and raised James and his brother and sister there.

Although James works as Industry Development Executive at Hybu Cig Cymru (HCC), he had always wanted to farm and had the opportunity to take on Gwaelod-y-Rhos where he now lives with his fiancé, Gwawr, and runs it alongside his off-farm job.

Through his role with HCC, he picked up ideas from other farms and systems but didn’t have the self-assurance to take the next step and putting some of these into practice.

“I was guilty of coming back from events with fresh ideas but not actually putting what I had learned into action,’’ he said.

To give him that nudge, he applied to be a part of the Farming Connect Mentoring Programme and secured a mentor, sheep and beef farmer John Yeomans.

John was a friend and near neighbour, farming at Llwyn Y Brain, Adfa, but mentoring provided a more formal structure for James to get his advice and guidance.

“It provided the inspiration I needed to get on and put these things into practice, John has been really good at that,” said James.

Since that mentoring relationship was established two years ago, James has switched from set stocking to rotational grazing, experimented with growing different crops and grasses and adjusted his approach to weed control.

As a result, he says his business is in a much stronger position.

He said:

“We are now in the best place we have ever been in terms of grazing, and the flock is more productive and healthier.

“We had tried a bit of rotational grazing but John motivated us to get on and roll it out further.’’

Several thousand metres of electric fences were put up to create that grazing system. The farm is now growing much more grass and keeping the best quality in front of the sheep. Subdividing into paddocks allows a consistent supply of fresh regrowth, says James.

“It is having the confidence to know there will be enough grass ahead but that it won’t get old before we want it for grazing.’’

In periods of high growth, he can adjust the rotation and take paddocks out for grazing.This year all the silage needed for winter feed had been cut by the second week in June, a first.

“We are way ahead of where we were,’’ says James.

Last year he decided to grow lucerne as an experiment and, because the wet nature of his farm meant it was a gamble, John advised him to include Timothy as a companion grass.

This proved an invaluable piece of advice as the lucerne failed and the Timothy thrived, so much so that it was cut for silage in May, the earliest James has ever cut grass for conserving; the aftermath provided clean grazing for his ewes and lambs.

“It made a lot of sense to include Timothy and because John was keeping an eye on me and providing advice, I had the confidence to do it,’’ he says.

Improvements have also been made to weed control.

Over the years, many fields have been ploughed and reseeded, as James trialled growing different crops, but disturbing the soil resulted in a high weed burden.

“If you are growing anything other than grass you are limited in terms of chemical controls and spraying isn’t that good for the environment either or for the soil in the longer term,’’ says James.

“We are now tackling the issue with better grass management, giving grass the opportunity to out-compete the weeds through planned grazing.

“We have seen a big difference with grass outcompeting the weeds.’’

James also plans to move away from ploughing as a cultivation tool and will instead try overseeding.

Again, it is John’s mentoring that has given him the confidence to try this.

“John isn’t a big believer in ploughing and I can see the sense in overseeding because it doesn’t disturb the structure and chemistry of the soil, and means we are not disturbing weed seeds.’’

Without the Farming Connect Mentoring Programme, James says he is unlikely to have made the bold decisions he has made in the last two years.

He is grateful that he has had that opportunity and sees a bright future for the farm.

“We are now in a position to look at how we can stretch everything further, perhaps keep more sheep or a different kind of ewe, or bring cattle back as an extra management tool in the rotational grazing system.

“We have a business that we know works, we know we have enough grass, we now want to focus on how we can get the most return from it.’’

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