A FARMER-led field lab is combining experience in the field with the application of science in a war against liver fluke.

Organic sheep farmer, Kevin Thomas, who farms near Brecon, is hosting a lab examining the micro issues of controlling common liver fluke, a flat worm that sucks the blood of its hosts, causing ill-thrift.

Kevin was a speaker at Hay Festival’s Hay-on-Earth forum and was introduced by Soil Association director, Helen Browning, at a presentation Field Lab: A Grassroots Research Revolution.

She said the Soil Association’s Duchy Originals Future Farming Programme is putting farmers “in the driving seat.”

This is being achieved with the help of the association’s royal patron, the Prince of Wales.

“We have got a grant to look at how we can pioneer farmer-led research because farmers are always experimenting, doing lots of work on farms but often not setting trials up in a way that gives meaningful results and which are not being shared beyond the farm gate,” said Helen.

Kevin and a band of neighbouring farmers is one group to have received Soil Association funding. So far £110,000 has been assigned to seven research projects.

He has combined his studies with that of Bristol University Cabot Institute researcher Eric Morgan who says that nematodes are now found on 85 per cent of farms but drugs are now only 75 per cent effective.

In a test study on six lambs he said three were given wormer and three were not. The three untreated lambs were found to be half the size of the treated animals.

The forum heard that the parasite is becoming increasingly resistant to treatment, especially when the same drug is used repeatedly.

“The field labs are about helping with technical knowledge and pragmatic solutions. They also help science by giving creative approaches,” said Eric.

Kevin said he hosted the field lab with 12 neighbours and colleagues in September last year and they were due to meet to discuss implementing changes on their farms.

In the meantime he has been mapping out his farm and marking the risk areas, so that grazing animals in different fields at different times of the year, could help control liver fluke, which is carried by wetland loving snails.

Movement of livestock was said to be another factor in the spread of the parasites with only 60 per cent of farmers quarantining animals coming on to their farm, and of these only three per cent testing to see if there is resilience to the wormer they use.

“The lab has allowed us as farmers to set the agenda.

“We need to make sure we apply science in terms of animal welfare and husbandry, because if you get that right and the grassland, you get productivity and healthy stock.

“I have had a very positive experience in being involved at a practical level,” said Kevin, who splits his working days between the farm and working in agricultural knowledge transfer and training.