1 October 1999

Traditional beef & lamb makes a nice premium

Marketing organic beef and

lamb from home is helping

one Lancs producer survive

current tough times.

Jeremy Hunt reports

ORGANIC beef produced from grass-reared traditional breeds sold directly from the farm is earning a substantial premium for a Lancashire herd running just 20 suckler cows and 80 ewes.

Bill Grayson of Bank House Farm, Silverdale, near Carnforth on the edge of the Lake District, is now attracting customers for his organic beef and lamb from as far away as Manchester. Beef is retailing at £2.35/kg and butchered lambs are generating around £80 worth of income.

The 20ha (50 acre) National Trust farm began its conversion to organic production in 1987. The Graysons took over the tenancy in 1992, and initially ran it as a part-time venture until grazing agreements on an additional 300ha (740 acres) of rough grazing enabled the farm to become a full-time business in 1995.

"It meant we could take most of the stock off the farm in summer so we were able to increase stock numbers and make enough winter feed," says Mr Grayson.

The farms grazing is entirely permanent pasture and includes 15ha (37 acres) of in-bye meadows and 15ha of in-take pasture as well as the extra rough land. There are also rights on the nearby salt marsh.

Stock were taken off meadows in early May and hay and silage made during July and August. The fields, which have not been ploughed for about 15 years, are lush with various wild grass species as well as plantain, dandelion, yarrow and clover and are now being grazed by suckler cows and spring-born calves.

"This has developed into an ideal sward mix which isnt being dominated by a small range of species. It provides a mixed and varied diet for stock and stimulates intake; the herbs undoubtedly provide important minerals that wouldnt be available if it were being intensively managed," he says.

Manure is applied to fields in rotation about once every three years at the rate of about 20t/ha (8t/acre). Elm Farm Research Centre trials previously carried out on the farm to assess the level of production of these natural swards showed a dry matter yield of 8t/ha (3.2t/acre), he adds.

"I appreciate that its low compared with an intensively managed grass system but trials here also showed that organically managed re-seeded pastures of clover and ryegrass could yield up to 12t DM/ha.

"On this farm we are sacrificing yield for the benefits of the swards herb content. We believe the loss in production is compensated for by other qualities that grazing provides, although payments under the Countryside Stewardship Scheme also go some way to re-imbursing us for lower levels of output."

Mr Grayson has never had a case of milk fever or staggers in the herd. He believes these two classic mineral deficiency diseases common to intensively managed farms have been avoided by trace elements provided by the herb-rich pasture.

Only when stock are moved on to the poorer rented land are they offered seaweed meal as a dietary supplement.

ORGANIC STOCK

&#8226 Beef and sheep.

&#8226 Sell from farm.

&#8226 Substantial premiums.