A SIMPLE soil test has helped one mid-Wales farming partnership save money on bought-in fertilisers and helped maximise the nutrient potential of home-produced poultry manure.

Hywel and Rachel Davies run a beef and sheep farm near Newtown and in 2008 they established a free-range poultry unit consisting of 16,000 laying hens to generate an additional source of income.

The poultry manure is a valuable fertiliser for their land at Genau Hafod, Dolfor, but to make the best use of it they needed to be certain of the nutrient content of the soil.

“We thought we should find out what was in the soil before we started using the poultry manure,”Hywel said.

“It was no good going into it blind because it could have locked up a lot of things in the ground.”

The Davieses were already registered with Farming Connect and through its Farm Advisory Service they were able to secure 80% funding towards a soil assessment, working with Martin Rees, of ADAS.

The assessment produced some interesting results.

“The potash and potassium levels were a lot better than we had expected, but the pH levels were poorer,” said Hywel.

“We are now working our way around the land that needs liming.”

The biggest benefit has been the savings made on fertiliser costs.

“We are buying more straight nitrogen and that is cutting our costs,” said Hywel.

“Where the land is flat enough for grazing we are just using poultry muck.”

He plans to retest the soil after five years to establish if any changes have occurred.

The Davieses farm 500 acres and have a flock of 1,050 ewes and 40 suckler cows. The sheep flock consists of 800 mule ewes, 250 Welsh ewes and 200 ewe lambs. Lambing gets underway in mid-March for a four-week period and lambs are sold to Waitrose.

The spring calving herd of sucklers includes Limousins and Belgian Blue-crosses and the calves are reared for the store market.

The creation of the poultry enterprise has provided another welcome source of income.

“We thought it would suit the system well and the poultry muck enhances the farm,” said Hywel.

Another income source is a 50Kw wind turbine, erected last year to boost farm income and to make savings on energy costs.

The farm is in its first year of a Glastir agreement with points earned from a range of initiatives, including rejuvenation of hedgerows, a low input grassland system and growing turnips as a feed source for the sheep.

The Davieses hope that this and the systems they have introduced in recent years will strengthen the enterprise should any of their three children – Megan, Lowri and Lloyd – decide to farm in the future.

For further information and guidance on how your farm business could benefit from 80% support, contact your regional farming connect coordinator, visit the website www.menterabusnes.co.

uk/farmingconnect or contact Elliw Evans on 07772694116 or email: elliw.evans@mentera busnes.co.uk.