21 May 1999

UK SPRING LAMB COMPETITION SHOWS WHAT THE MARKET NEEDS

A SHOWCASE for the best of British is the idea behind the National Spring Lamb Competition staged for the third year running at the Royal Bath and West Show.

"The competition shows its possible for UK farmers to produce consistently what the market requires – high-quality lamb – and lift their returns in the process," explains Chris Ling, Tescos Producer Club manager.

"Within the industry there has been a continuing debate about the need for producers to focus on meeting the markets needs for quality and consistency. This competition will show exactly how farmers are managing to achieve those standards," he adds.

£1000 is on offer to the winner of the competition which is sponsored by Tesco and run with support from FABBL, the Meat and Livestock Commission, Southern Counties Fresh Food and the National Sheep Association.

Entrants have supplied five lambs ranging between 16 and 21.5kg deadweight. Carcasses are judged on a points system according to MLC grading for fat, conformation and group uniformity within set weight bands.

Last years winner Austin Morgan from Llanfrynach, near Brecon, Powys, could face even tougher competition this year as he bids to achieve two successes in a row.

"After winning the competition, I had several enquiries from commercial breeders about my rams so I think I could be up against their progeny at Shepton Mallet in June," says Mr Morgan. In the 1998 competition, his group of Texels scored 585 points out a possible total of 700.

Carcasses will be available for viewing at the Tesco Spring Lamb Marquee. The winner will be announced by show president Lady Arran on Wed June 2 at 4pm in the Tesco Spring Lamb Marquee.

This years Royal Bath and West show

opens its doors on Wednesday week. John

Burns, Mike Stones and Tessa Gates look

at what will be there and focus on topics

likely to be of interest to visitors.

Farming Conference Centre

(next to NFU pavilion – sponsored by Lloyds TSB)

Weds, June 2

11am-12 noon Benefits to farmers of the European Union

Chairman and speakers – Ian Stockley, chief agricultural manager, Lloyds TSB; with Matt Dempsey, Editor, Irish Farmers Journal; Anthony Gibson, regional director, NFU.

2.30pm-4pm Country Living seminar – GM growers, sinners or saviours?

Chairman and speakers – Robin Page, agriculture and wildlife adviser, Country Living; with Joan Ruddock, MP for Lewisham and Deptford; Nigel Halford, project leader, IACR Long Ashton.

Thurs, June 3

11am – 12 noon.

Dairy farming, the survivors guide and The Future Beyond Farming.

Chairman – Ian Stockley, chief agricultural manager, Lloyds TSB. Speakers:

Technical and business management, John Allen, ADAS.

Leaving the industry and surviving the tax consequences

Susan Shaw, Smith & Williamson.

Farm Development Review, your new opportunities

John Williams.

12 noon Farm minister, Nick Brown.

2.30pm-4pm Country Life Seminar – GM foods: Frankenstein or fabulous?

Chairman and speakers – Clive Aslet, Editor, Country Life; with The Marchioness of Worcester, environmental campaigner; Timothy Yeo MP, shadow farm minister; Helen Browning, chairman, Soil Association; Alastair Leake, project manager, Focus on Farming Practices.

Fri, June 4

11am-12 noon The Euro and UK farming

Chairman and speakers – John Marsh; with Trevor Williams, senior economist, Lloyds Bank; Steve Rice, export consultant; John Griffiths, ACT.

2.30pm-4pm Horse and Hound Seminar – The future of British sport horse breeding

A GASTRONOMIC TOUR DE FORCE

START your gastronomic journey on Central Avenue opposite the main ring at the British Farm Food Fair (stand 444), the British Gas-sponsored showcase for home-produced food and drink.

Begin the day hungry and you could soon find yourself tempted to try the free samples of dips and dressings before succumbing to crusty farmhouse sandwiches filled with local ham or cheese and salad from The Gingham Kitchen or perhaps some luscious strawberries and cream.

Trevaskis Farm sells its strawberries with thick Cornish clotted cream at the show. The Eustice family grow 30 fruit crops on the 70 acre farm near Hayle, Cornwall and produce around 80t a year of strawberries.

"We grow two acres of strawberries in heated glass houses and two acres in polytunnels," says George Eustice. "We supply major supermarkets and have a pick-your-own enterprise and a farm shop and restaurant. And of course we have our trailer unit and with this we take our strawberries and raspberries to 50 shows."

Now the perfect accompaniment to strawberries on a hot summers day is sparkling wine and in the Spirit of the West area of the food fair you can buy a champagne-style wine made from grapes grown barely a corks pop from the showground. "We are not allowed to call it champagne but it is an excellent sparkling wine," says Steve Brookesbank, owner of Bagborough Vineyard, Pylle, Shepton Mallet.

"We started the vineyard 10 years ago and grow Schonburgur and Syval Blanc grapes. We grow 4acres of vines and these yield 2-3t/acre, depending on the weather, and each tonne of grapes will produce around 800 bottles of white wine."

"It is nice to grow something that you can see right through to the end, from planting the vine, picking and processing the fruit and finally pouring the wine into the glass," says Mr Brookesbank, a happy man who really gets to savour the fruit of his labours.

Last year frost and a wet summer meant fruit yields were low. "But when the yield is low the quality is usually very good and this was the case," says Mr Brookesbank who describes his light, fruity and flowery wine as "fresh tasting". You can test the aptness of the description yourself at the show.

Taste of the west

Adjoining the food fair is the Taste of the West area (stand 443) where members of this regional association of food producers and processors exhibit their West Country products.

Here are all manner of goodies from seafood, air-dried ham, pates and smoked duck breasts to ostrich and emu meat, quality beef, lamb and pork, pies and pasties, ice creams, cheeses and fudges. And, of course, a variety of drinks, including local cider. Here you will also find venison for sale and Susan and Peter Kent of Mid-Devon Fallow will be selling theirs along with cuts from six other Devon and Cornwall deer farms, under the West Country Venison banner.

"We bought our farm 11 year ago with the intention of raising fallow deer," says Mrs Kent. The couple have 300 breeding does at Keyethern Farm, Hatherleigh, Devon. "Most people farm red deer because they believe fallow deer to be skittish and difficult but they are not. We chose them because they are smaller and produce very high-quality meat."

Objective 5b funding has helped the couple expand their business and set up a producer group. They now have an on-farm butchery and separate processing room which is used for their own meat and that from the other producers in the group making the butchery economically viable while ensuring quality and traceability. Joints, steak and other cuts, plus very popular venison burgers and sausages are sold and delivered to local businesses and as freezer packs to private customers.

The burgers and sausages are also sold hot from a van at many shows. Fortunately the hot sales side of the business coincides with a closed season for deer so the Kents are able to tempt showgoers with their burgers and sausages during a quiet period on the farm.

"But at the Bath and West we will just have our chill stand so people can take home cuts of meat to try – steaks and casserole meat seem to be the cuts that sell well there. However, it is also a showcase for us and many people take a leaflet and place an order later for venison for the freezer," says Mrs Kent.

Also displayed in the Taste of the West area will be the winning entries in the West Country Food Awards. Gold, silver and bronze medals will be awarded in a range of classes which includes a new one this year for organic products. One product will take the champions accolade, won last year by Dorset Blue Cheese Co.

To find out what makes a champion cheese, wander further along Central Avenue to the Cheese and Dairy Show (stand 481). In this specially cooled hall visitors have the chance to seek out the best in regional, national and international products. The cheeses will have been judged before the show opens and for people who want to find out what the judges have been looking for, there is the opportunity to talk to a cheese grader. He is an expert who devotes his working life to ensuring that only the best cheeses are put onto cheese boards. With his words still fresh in mind, put them to good use by entering the competition to win a hamper full of North Downs Dairy produce.

New this year is a major national award for achievement – The Royal Bath and West of England Cheese Industry Award, sponsored by the British Cheese Board. It will be presented to the person selected from a list of nominated candidates who has been judged to have made an outstanding contribution to the industry. The awards ceremony takes place on Thurs June 3.

Watch someone else

With food still in mind but with the chance to sit down and watch someone else cook for a change – take a seat in the St Ivel Theatre (Central Avenue) where cookery demonstrations will take place daily from 10.30am to 3.30pm.

The Womens Food and Farming Union will be rustling up some recipes using Somerset cider brandy, Sheppys cider and Charlton orchard apples; Viv Harding of the Meat and Livestock Commission will be advising on the preparation of British pork and Ladies in Pigs (LIPS) will be presenting some delicious pork recipes.

St Ivel will be demonstrating recipes from the booklets they will be handing out free to take home and local chef Richard Hartley will be taking centre stage hot-smoking West Country Foods.

GREEN WASTE GATHERS PACE

COMPOSTING Somersets green waste – plant material from gardens and kitchens – instead of burying it in scarce landfill sites and paying a tax for the privilege, has now reached such a scale that new markets are needed to take the finished products.

Wyvern Waste Services, formerly part of Somerset County Council but now an arms-length limited trading company, operates two composting sites in the county, at Taunton and Castle Carey.

Taunton Dean B C provides a kerbside collection service specifically for selected green waste, but most of the material which ends up at the composting sites comes either from landscape contractors or civic amenity centres where the public can take their garden waste.

After shredding and windrowing, the material is left to the action of naturally occurring microbes which convert it to what manager Jim Ballance prefers to call soil conditioners rather than composts. The windrows are turned regularly to ensure plenty of air is available to those microbes, and that all the material is properly broken down. One result of their activity is the production of heat which in turn kills weed seeds and disease organisms. Process standards require that a temperature of over 65C must be held for 72 hours on four separate occasions. Microbial activity also breaks down any herbicides and pesticides which might be present on the green waste.

After three to five months composting the material is screened and graded for sale.

Wyvern employs the Henry Doubleday Research Association to carry out farm trials on the use of the soil conditioners. HDRA staff will be at the show to explain results to date.

The main benefits are:

&#8226 Provision of organic matter to help improve soil structure.

&#8226 Provision of a wide range of microbes which help soil health and fertility. If beneficial types greatly outnumber the "baddies" the latter will be suppressed.

&#8226 Provision of plant nutrients such as nitrogen, phosphate and potash.

"Adding these conditioners to farm soils is a long-term investment in soil health and fertility. Their effects are complex and vary according to soil type. But we recognise agriculture and especially the organic sector, as an important part of our market," says Mr Ballance.

The composting sites and processes have a Soil Association certificate which means the resulting materials can be used on organic farms. Prices depend on volume and transport costs. A rough guide would be £4/t ex depot.

ORGANIC MILK SUPPLIERS CO-OP GROWS

SOON to be celebrating its fifth birthday, this fast-growing co-op had 31 farmer-members at the last count, though with new members being taken on literally every month that figure will already be out-of-date.

Formed by determined organic milk producers at a time when Milk Marque felt unable to help, OMSCo has gone from strength to strength and enabled the market to be developed in a controlled way to ensure worthwhile premiums for the milk. Its most recent achievement is a five-year price (29.5p a litre) and volume agreement with Sainsbury which should give more milk producers the confidence to change to the organic system. The co-op works closely with its milk processors, being sole supplier to Meadow Farms and Yeo Valley Organic, and main supplier of organic milk to Alvis Bros.

OMSCo chief executive Sally Bagenal says: "This deal is strong evidence that todays price is sustainable, and shows that if producers, processors and retailers all work together we can produce a secure and sustainable future for farmers."

Visit OMSCos stand at the show to find out more.

Alpacas – not a flash in the pan!

BLACKMORE Vale Alpacas will be at the show with examples of good-quality animals and garments made from their soft, silky, very hard-wearing fibre. There will also be an opportunity to discuss the financial viability of Alpaca enterprises based on what at first sight seem very expensive animals.

Do not dismiss them as "just another Angora goat-type flash in the pan," says John Gaye of BVA. The difference is that whereas goats could be multiplied very quickly using AI, super-ovulation, and embryo transplants, a lot of poor quality stock was imported, and above all there was no organised market for the fibre, Alpacas have never been successfully subjected to those breeding techniques. So they can only be multiplied slowly, and in the meantime a marketing co-op has been set up along with a processing and retailing arm so that members will eventually get full benefit of the high prices made by garments based on Alpaca fibre.

Mr Gaye says Alpacas can live out in most weathers, though appreciate shelter from extremes of driving rain. Their padded feet do remarkably little damage to pasture, even in very wet conditions, and they do not suffer from footrot. On the whole they are very healthy, hardy animals, he says, provided they get regular vaccines, worming, shearing and teeth and feet care.

Royal Bath & West of England Show

Supporting the Best of British Agriculture. Show Highlights

Farming for the The Farming for the Future feature will demonstrate

Future Feature to farmers and consumers the advantage of sustain-

able and organic farming methods, cover topical

issues and new scientific practices.

Tesco National £1000 is the tempting first prize for the winning

Spring Lamb sheep producer this year. The competi-

Competition tion is designed to encourage the

production of quality carcass British lamb.

Farming This years conference topics will be topical and

Conference wide ranging.Covering such subjects as the "Benefits

Centre to farmers of the EU"; "The Euro and UK farming"

and "People in the countryside".There are also

Country Living and Horse and Hound seminars.

Five Nations Teams from Northern Ireland, Republic of Ireland,

Sheep Shearing Scotland, Wales and England compete for this hard

Competition fought competition.

British Farming A feature aimed at promoting an awareness of the For the Family countryside and the farming industry to those from a

Awards more urban background.

Agricultural This long running competition provides farmers Innovation with an opportunity to display their ingenuity to the

rest of the agricultural industry. Some of the simplest

inventions often go on to be essential pieces of every

day farm life.