25 February 2000

EUcash funds farm upgrades for partnership

Cumbria farmers are tapping into new cash support through

the EU-funded Beef and Sheep scheme. Jeremy Hunt reports

A FARMING partnership which is now retailing almost its entire livestock output to 150 individual customers is benefiting from a 40% grant on a range of farm improvements.

Two neighbouring units at Roweltown, near Carlisle are trading as Whiteholme Farm and selling their organically produced beef, lamb and pork to an expanding customer base in Cumbria and Northumberland.

The two farms – Whiteholme and Low Luckens – are run by partners Ken and Lara Porter and Mike and Ruth Downham. There are 62.5ha (150 acres) at Whiteholme and 25ha (60 acres) at Low Luckens, all Less Favoured Area.

Stocking across the two units comprises 150 North Country Cheviot ewes, 35 Galloway and Blue-grey suckler cows and a small herd of Gloucester Old Spot x Berkshire sows.

The partners have recently completed several improvements to the farm business at a cost of £6400 but under the EU funded Beef and Sheep Scheme they were able to claim a 40% grant. Applications were handled through Cumbria Farmlink which will run to 2001 and was set up specifically to advise the countys farmers about the EUs 5b grants and to facilitate the scheme.

The improvements included final fabrication modifications to an existing open fronted livestock shed, feed storage bins, a carcass digester and a new computer for the farm office.

Completing the shell of the livestock building enabled it to be divided into beef pens and provide a large covered concrete area as a muck midden, explains Mr Porter.

"Dealing with liquid slurry is not easy on an organic system and can cause weed problems on pasture, particularly docks. The midden will help us create the solid muck we prefer to handle."

The carcass digester, which cost about £800, can be used for fallen sheep and pigs. Its 3m (10ft) deep with a gravel base and is sealed with a man-hole cover.

"It may be necessary to kick the bugs into action by adding some muck into the pit but carcasses should naturally rot down, leaving bones behind. Its probably not something we would have opted for had it not been specifically mentioned as qualifying for grant under the scheme but its giving us an easy and efficient method of disposal," he says.

Feed storage on the farm was also limited. The cost of organic compound feed at £400/t was prohibitive, which meant the partners turned to straight feeds at about £150-£200/t. Barley, oats, wheat and peas are now stored in new wooden bins with a capacity of 15t constructed in the barn.

The latest application for a grant should make a big difference to the businesss expanding retail side. Currently all stock is slaughtered at a Soil Association approved abattoir in Lockerbie about 40 minutes away which also butchers and vacuum packs the farms meat.

"We are about to apply for a farm diversification grant to create butchering facilities on-farm which will give us a lot more flexibility and enable us to provide customers with a wider variation of cuts," says Mr Porter.

WHITEHOLME FARM

&#8226 Marketing partnership.

&#8226 Objective 5b grant aid.

&#8226 Selling all produce direct.

Cumbria Farmlink provided a 40% grant for farm improvements, including new 15t capacity wooden feed bins, says Ken Porter.