By Debbie James

Improved soil life and crop cover resulting from a managed tillage approach to growing cereals is having a dramatic effect on populations of birds and other wild animals at a Pembrokeshire arable farm.

The Llewellin family’s well-practised approach of minimising soil disturbance by doing only what is needed according to field conditions on the day is not only consuming less diesel but is inevitably beneficial for soil health and biodiversity at Trewarren Farm, St Ishmaels.

A recent head count of ladybirds revealed five different species and a butterfly spotter totted up 12 different kinds.

By disturbing as little soil as possible, populations of deep burrowing worms have also increased and the soil’s water filtration properties have improved.

“It is incredible what we see when we are working in the fields,’’ says Jim, who farms with his wife, Christine, and son and daughter-in-law, Jason and Rosalyn. “I am no ornithologist but I do notice a big range of different kinds of birds.’’

Managed tillage facilitates good agronomy, such as timely operations, and improves the overall land husbandry on this coastal farm.

It is therefore possible for the business to grow crops productively and profitably while mitigating environmental harm.

The family has farmed Trewarren since 1955. More land has since been acquired, increasing the acreage base to 400ha of owned, rented and contract farmed land – three-quarters of this is used for arable crop production and the remainder is permanent pasture, woodland, cliff land, ponds and let for growing potatoes.

The farm grows around 200ha of wheat, 55ha of winter oilseed rape, 20ha of beans and, for the second year running, 20ha of canary seed. Their most challenging growing seasons ever forced a rethink this year with 20ha of barley being introduced when crops failed.

Insecticides are only applied when they are needed and slug traps are used to monitor populations allowing pellets to be applied on an informed basis.

The legacy of the Farmland Woodland Premium Scheme is evident across the farm with thousands of trees growing on less productive areas and steeper land.

Jim took advantage of the scheme in the 1990s, planting 25,000 broadleaved and coniferous trees. Also, 1,000 metres of hedges and six irrigation ponds have been created, which greatly benefits the local environment.

The family’s passion for farming and the countryside has filtered down through the generations with enthusiastic helpers in Jason and Rosalyn’s daughters, Rebecca and Emma-Rose.

They are early adopters of the family’s industrious spirit as each summer they set up a stall on the roadside, selling fresh produce from the garden to passing tourists in this holiday area; the money they raise is donated to the Pembrokeshire-based charity, the Paul Sartori Foundation.

Should the girls choose to become farmers, there is an exciting future for them, Jason reckons.

“There is good demand for the crops we produce and there are exciting times ahead with initiatives for carbon capture and reducing our carbon footprint.’’

Educating the next generation about farming extends beyond the immediate family.

Rosalyn has played a key role in forging a relationship between food and farming and education by organising several curriculum-based school visits to the farm to discuss topics ranging from the growing season for wheat and harvesting potatoes.

Farming has come up trumps during the coronavirus crisis, she suggests.

“We have freedom for the children to enjoy nature and to have a healthy lifestyle, as farmers we count ourselves very lucky.’’

The greatest pleasure the Llewellins get from farming is producing high quality food in harmony with nature – anything above that is a bonus they say, referencing the 2019 NFU Cymru/Wynnstay Sustainable Agriculture Award they were presented with at the union’s annual conference last autumn.

“We didn’t expect to be nominated and were even more surprised to win,’’ Jason admits.

But, if animals could talk, that sentiment would not be shared by the swan and her cygnets in residence at one of the irrigation ponds, the wild animals foraging and nesting in the generous field margins created without environmental scheme payments, and the birds chirruping in the hedgerows at Trewarren Farm.