A two way relationship between beef farming and the environment is crucial for the long term sustainability of both, said Jon Reeves, co-owner of Riverside Beef.
Not only is grazing management crucial to maintaining a habitat suitable for numerous bird species, working with the environment can also provide a valuable tool for marketing beef.
As RSPB site manager for the Ouse Wash, Mr Reeves recognised the huge potential to market beef with an “environmental tag” and in 2009 set up Riverside Beef.
The cattle managed by the company are grazed in wild-life rich grasslands in Cambridgeshire, Norfolk and Suffolk, which provide habitats for lapwings, snipe, golden plover and other threatened species.
“Because the consumer is willing to pay more for our high quality produce, we can offer the farmer a premium over and above the normal base price for cattle. Consumers love the story and the fact we are delivering a benefit to nature – it’s a huge selling point.
“And grazing is also essential in maintaining healthy habitats for ground nesting birds, so it’s great news for wildlife as well.”
The nine farms supplying stock for Riverside Beef get a premium price 10pence over the weekly base price from Suffolk Meat Traders in Bury St Edmunds. Breeds supplied vary from Limousins, South Devon x Charolais to Simmentals.
“We’re looking for smaller quality cattle, finishing at a deadweight of 250-350kg. The farmers involved may have half a dozen suitable cattle which they will send for Riverside Beef. These farmers want to develop an alternative outlet for their product and can see future in the brand.”
The company started by selling meat boxes and has now grown to supply small butchers, caterers, restaurants and farm shops.
Such a scheme could be used as a blueprint for similar projects across the country, offering farmers the ability to produce a nice, premium product, while sustaining the environment.