Notes from farm and estate managers meeting
Phil Stocker - 15 October 2010
I thought I would write up my notes from the recent meeting of farm and estate managers hosted by Rhug Farm in north Wales in mid-October. All attendees had travelled from the south-west and south-east of England on what was a blissful autumn day.
Undoubtedly, one of the strong attractions of these meetings is to get the chance to look around farms doing things differently, and in different regional and climatic conditions. It is also hugely valuable for farm managers to take time away from their places of work, to ‘think outside the box’ (don’t you hate that term?), to see how their fellow managers are tackling things, and just generally network with each other.
For me, the opportunity to hear more about the challenges people are facing, and the solutions that they are working on, helps me to make sure that the Soil Association’s work retains its relevance and effectiveness. In addition to our core farming related activities, it also gives me the chance to tell our members more about the Soil Association’s wider awareness raising and policy work, and to identify where farms can get more closely involved for mutual benefit.
The programme for the day was very straightforward: discussions in the morning, a hearty lunch of home-bred Angus beef stew and dumplings, followed by a tour of the farm and its various enterprises. During the tour we saw some fine growing and finishing beef cattle (the suckler cows are some 50 miles away on another farm), table chickens and turkeys, bison, some impressive ewes in an even more impressive parkland setting, and finally the on farm butchery and cold store. The farm shop wasn’t part of the tour but I think most attendees paid their own visits once we’d finished.
Continuing the theme of ‘slaughtering animals and abattoirs’ that came strongly out of our very first managers network meetings, it was interesting to hear how the bison, which are licensed as dangerous animals, are shot and bled on farm before being transported to a local abattoir for dressing out. I speak to plenty of farmers who would love to be able to do this for domestic farm stock – always in the name of improved welfare and reduced stress for the animals. The Soil Association will be taking this thinking into account as we go about our campaigning and policy work – a regulatory framework must be sought to allow on farm slaughter, more mobile abattoirs (even if just for small animals and poultry), networks of small and independent abattoirs, with a review of the real risks to public health of slaughtering livestock.
The table chickens also stimulated a discussion over long term positioning of organic poultry production when it has to compete with such price differentials compared to standard chicken and when the public have become so used to eating chicken almost ‘everyday’. Yet the prices per kg of organic chicken, at say £5 – 6.50/kg are still good value when compared to other organic meats.
We also learnt of a recent increase in the numbers of NVQ level students at Plumpton Agricultural College, which reflects our experiences of interest in the Soil Association apprenticeship scheme. Is there a significant change in the attitude of young people and new entrants to farming as a career?
Thank you again to everyone who attended the meeting – and a special thanks to Lord Newborough and Gareth Jones for hosting the day.