The rewards of dual cropping

A Welsh farming family tells us how they have turned to dual cropping, growing two crops side by side, to become more self-sufficient and sustainable
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CLA members Eurig Jones and his father Wyn, who farm around 1,099 acres in north Pembrokeshire, decided to trial a dual crop of peas and beans to produce home-grown feed for their herd of cattle, enabling them to cut costs and become more self-sufficient.

Pantyderi is a mixed farm producing beef, sheep and 200 acres of arable, with the rotation including spring barley, winter barley and winter wheat. The beef enterprise includes 80 spring-calving Hereford-cross suckler cows sired to a Luing bull, while the sheep flock comprises 1,500 Texel-cross ewes.

As a demonstration farm for the Welsh Government’s Farming Connect programme, Eurig and Wyn are no strangers to new ventures and embraced the challenge, especially with the temptation of replacing expensive bought-in protein feed.

They planted their first crop in 2020. Eurig says: “When Farming Connect approached me with the idea, I was happy to try as no one I knew had grown this dual crop before.

“It’s an unusual crop to grow, but we thought it would enable us to become more self-sufficient and sustainable while simultaneously reducing our farm’s carbon footprint.”

Trialling dual cropping

The project aimed to explore whether farms could benefit from replacing the bought-in protein feed for beef cattle by growing a dual crop of high-protein peas and beans. The main objective was to provide enough protein to fatten the 400 stores bought annually and to finish the home-bred calves.

Before the project, Eurig was feeding his cattle a bought-in 36% protein, maize distillers and rapeseed blend. But the trial proved such a success in its first year that he has continued to grow the dual crop, allowing the farm to stop purchasing feed from external sources.

It has been a brilliant project and it was timely as feed has become so expensive

Eurig Jones

“The aim was to fatten our cattle solely on our home-grown feed. Initially, we grew 20 acres of the dual crop, but we’ve since planted 30 acres each year because it worked so well,” says Eurig.

They also trialled feeding 100 twin-bearing ewes through a total mixed ration system using peas and beans combined with grass silage. This was a success: the ewes were happy, and the colostrum was good quality.

As the first UK field trial of its kind, the peas and beans are both sown at full rate in the same field. “The beans were planted in April at 320kg/ha and the peas at 220kg/ha. We run a conventional ploughed cultivated system, so they were drilled separately; the beans were first sowed at a depth of 70mm, as they needed to be deeper than the peas, which were sowed at 50mm.

“No fertiliser was required, we just put 25t/ha of muck on it,” Eurig adds. “As far as I know, no one in Wales or the UK was growing this crop at that time. A couple have since, but we were the first to grow it at that acreage, so it was definitely a new idea.”

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A match made in heaven

Growing peas and beans together delivered significant advantages: the peas quickly cover the ground, suppressing weed development, and the beans act as a scaffold for the peas.

However, Eurig admits that the first year was a learning curve. “We didn’t know how we were going to harvest it,” he says. “We knew we would have to combine it, but we weren’t sure the best way to go about it – we didn’t know if we should swath it first. However, no one in the area had a swather available – there are only three in the county – and everyone was too busy with their harvest.”

Eurig set the combine for peas and beans and went for it. “I had to make a few adjustments around the headlands, and needed a side knife to cut through it, otherwise it would just drag, but that was the only thing I had to invest in.

“A bit of moisture went into the combine at the start on that first day, but it improved as the day went on.” After being harvested in September, the crop is passed through a crimping machine, where a preservative is applied before being rolled. This enables Eurig to harvest it at the higher moisture content of around 35%, rather than waiting an extra month to harvest it dry. This method also produces better quality feed for the cattle. Haulm from the crop is also chopped, baled and added to the ration, replacing barley straw.

Benefits to growing pulses

There are numerous benefits to growing pulses besides producing a top-quality feed. These include nitrogen-fixing, where nodules on the plant roots capture atmospheric nitrogen. As well as feeding the plant itself, this also leaves residual nitrogen in the soil for the following crop, which is wheat at Pantyderi.

This also means that Wyn and Eurig do not need to purchase as much nitrogen fertiliser, saving even more in costs, time and carbon. Farming Connect calculated that eliminating 40 tonnes of the bought-in protein feed equates to saving 60 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) for the farm’s carbon footprint. A further 2.72t CO2e is also saved because of the reduction in bought-in fertiliser needed for the following wheat crop.

Although Pantyderi was the first farm in Wales to trial the protein crop, interest is now spreading. Eurig is excited to continue growing the dual crop and experimenting more with growing pulses. The farm has signed up to take part in the NCS Project, a Defra-funded scheme that aims to reduce the agricultural industry’s carbon footprint by increasing pulse and legume cropping in arable rotations to 20% across the UK.

I think, over time, we’ll see farming change massively as we drive towards net zero

Eurig Jones

“Data and new technology will be a big part of it to help us be more efficient and more sustainable, and that will benefit the environment, too,” Eurig says.