Field Scale Trials
Led by partner Mach Maethlon, Tyfu Dyfi enabled a number of field scale trials with farmers / smallholders to help develop understanding of agroecological practices and scaling up production for the local economy.
Click on the button on the left to see a map of the sites Tyfu Dyfi worked with. Note: another tab on this map shows crop data from the Welsh Government's Capability, Suitability and Climate Programme (CSCP) – providing an indication of where various crops will grow in the future under different climate change scenarios
Originally written as a blog post, here is some text from Katie Hastings, who led this aspect of the project - scroll down to find some videos on individual field scale trials.
Some people might be mistaken in thinking that the fields around the Dyfi Biosphere have always grown the same kind of foods. Pasture fed sheep and cows have always been a strength of our area, and have been produced here for centuries. But it wasn’t so long ago that many of these livestock fields, especially the ones in the valleys and towards the coast, were part of a plaid of different crops, woven together across farms, to create a diversity of different local foods.
Local food resilience certainly isn’t a new idea round here. Local farmer Alun Lewis recounts growing potatoes in Penegoes near Machynlleth in the 1940’s. The potatoes were planted by him using farm machinery, with each local family harvesting their own sacks at the end of the summer. While running the Felin Crewi mill in Penegoes, he remembers using wheat grown in local fields to create local flour.
In recent decades, the diversity of local crops in the Dyfi Biosphere has massively declined. Vintage machines that were previously used to grow local oats, wheat and barley lie rusting. Potato planters are no longer sought after. Where have all the vegetables gone? What has happened to the golden fields of ripening grains in the summertime?
During Tyfu Dyfi, we ran a ‘peer to peer’ learning group for local growers wanting to try growing a crop in their fields. Some of the group were farmers with land who wanted to explore a crop they have never grown. Others growers on borrowed land wanting to experiment with something which they might be able to scale up in the future to fulfil a dream of becoming a farmer. What they all have in common is an interest in bringing some of the mixed patchwork of vegetables and grains back to the local fields.
So, how were these these growers supported?
In terms of practical help, Tyfu Dyfi was able to fund contractors with specialist machinery to assist our growers with tasks such as rotavating, ridging and seed drilling. With a huge decline in local crop diversity, vegetable and grain machines can be hard to come by. While this equipment may not be at the cutting edge of innovation, these are machines which our growers do not have. By offering the funds to rent the machines for a trial, we sidestepped the barrier of buying expensive equipment to grow a new crop which might never come to fruition.
We offered the group funding for expert advice. With one grower planning to cultivate seaweed, another looking at no till grain production methods and another wanting to produce organic liquid plant foods, our participants are thinking outside of the box of what they can produce and sell in the Dyfi Biosphere. By offering them funding to seek specific advice for their trials, we are recognising that the advice they need doesn’t fit into a one size fits all training programme.
Finally, by connecting these growers together, we are provided a platform for them to share their journey with their peers. Growing can be a lonely pursuit, especially when your trial crop can seem strange to others around you. In my experience, there is no educational model more powerful than the horizontal learning that comes from growers exchanging their successes and challenges.
While we can offer this extra support, thanks to Tyfu Dyfi funders, the hard graft of trying a new crop will always fall to the growers out in the field. The participants of our Field Scale Trials group have put their ideas forward, and followed them through with determination and passion. We have seen some beautiful partnerships blossom between older farmers and younger farmers, between more experienced growers and new entrants, all working to the common aim of crop diversification.
Please give a round of applause for the growers who put their own time (and land) to test what is possible…
Fava Beans - Tilly
With a growing discussion around pulses in the UK, Matilda Gomersall (Tilly) spent the summer of 2022 at Fferm Cwm Llywi Farm growing fava beans (Vicia faba). Producing a highly nutritious protein source that can be grown in our local conditions and stored easily, Tilly is working on replacing imported chickpeas with locally grown beans.
Going one step further than producing a crop, Tilly is working on breeding a modern landrace, the ‘Dyfi Valley Bean Population’. It contains a wide genetic mixture of fava beans that are cross pollinating and evolving in the fields of the Dyfi Valley. These will be both naturally-selected and famer-selected to grow well in the particular and changing conditions within this area. With a broad enough genetic base, the population should be more resilient to extreme climates and pests and diseases, without the need for chemical inputs.
Tilly held a focus group in 2022, with 10 local growers, retailers and consumers. The feedback from this focus group will help her to identify what people want from the bean population and select for these traits in the second breeding year. In the meantime, her dried fava beans have been available to buy in local greengrocer Siop Blodyn Tatws.