19 August 1997

Efficiency and care for environmentgo hand-in-hand

EFFICIENT sheep production and environmental protection are compatible objectives on a Caernarfon hill farm.

Owen Jones, Bronmiod, Llanelhaern, joined the Llyn Environmentally Sensitive Area Scheme seven years ago. At the time land improvement, including drainage and reseeding started by his father was almost complete, so he could see no conflict between the ESA management prescription and his plans to develop the business.

Basically all he was expected to do to collect annual payments was to maintain existing field patterns and boundaries, stop further land improvement, and not over stock unimproved grassland.

Since then the area farmed has been enlarged to 175ha (432 acres), plus 40ha (99 acres) on a 364-day grazing licence, common grazing rights for 160 ewes, and 91ha (225 acres) of National Trust land taken recently on a business tenancy. This acquisition does not include sheep or suckler cow quota.

Expansion has allowed the sheep flock to grow from 600 ewes four years ago to 1500 Welsh Mountain ewes and 300 ewe lambs. Taking the National Trust tenancy, which was tendered for to provide hard-to-find wintering for replacements, means the true stock carrying capacity is now around 1700 ewes and 500 ewe lambs.

Extra sheep quota

Because of this all ewes are being bred pure at present. Mr Jones plans to apply for extra LFA sheep quota units, but will lease in the short term. Despite a high proportion of young ewes lambing percentage is around 120%. All wethers and surplus ewe lambs are finished.

When the southern European export market for light carcasses is buoyant lambs are sold at about 28kg liveweight. This year weak demand means that the average is closer to 35kg. Charolais cross calves out of the 56 Hereford x Friesian suckler cows are usually sold with blue CIDs after claiming the first beef special premium payment.

While the first five years of claiming ESA payments had little impact on the way Mr Jones farmed Bronmiod, the revised scheme introduced in July 1994 offered the family more cash for more positive environmental management.

Now Mr Jones, who farms in partnership with his wife Anwen, collects over £6000 a year, plus £17,000 over five years for field boundary restoration. Cash will also be claimed for stone building repair, bracken spraying and pond restoration.

The whole farm scheme pays a total of £2263.80 a year at Bronmiod. Management payments include £20/ha/year (£8/acre/year) on semi-natural rough grazing, £35/ha (£14/acre) on enclosed unimproved grass, and £30-£45/ha (£12-18/acre) on 50ha (123 acres) of wetlands, which had become badly poached where fodder racks were placed. Now spring stocking has to be light so turnout is delayed until May. Supplement-ary feeding is now prohibited on the marsh so cattle are housed three weeks earlier.

Under the new ESA prescription a 2m (6 ft) wide buffer zone on each side of field boundaries must not receive fertiliser or sprays.

"Elsewhere the regulations are very similar to those we lived with for five years under the old scheme," Mr Jones says.

He could increase output with higher stocking rates, draining the wetlands and improving enclosed rough grazings, but ESA payments let him maintain aggregate income while following his natural inclination to protect the environment.n

Owen Jones says ESA payments allow him to maintain income and protect the environment.