Huw Rowlands farms at Grange Farm, Mickle Trafford. Here he tells us of his journey to becoming LEAF Marque certified and how it has affected the way he farms now.
Here at The Grange Farm in Mickle Trafford we run Red Poll cattle as a single suckler herd, producing top quality beef which we wholesale to local pubs and restaurants and to Williamsons Butchers in Waterloo, Liverpool, and retail from the farm and at various farmers markets. It’s a far cry from eight years ago when the farm was losing money on milk and was home to a herd of Friesian cattle. The farm is in both Entry Level and Higher Level Stewardship with Educational Access, and we host around sixty visits a year including taking part in Open Farm Sunday and Heritage Open Days, and are heavily involved with the Cheshire Wildlife Trust’s Gowy Connect Project. We grow small areas of low input spring barley, game cover crop and pollen and nectar mix as part of our Stewardship Scheme, and have ten hectares of poplar plantations for commercial use. Perhaps the main change has been the philosophy of how we farm. Rather than working against the land, we now work with it.
In 2009 we stopped using manufactured fertilisers, partly because of cost, but mainly because we had discovered that our soils were degraded, and this was contributing to major problems with the health of our Red Poll herd. We now use a small amount of treated sewage cake and a vast quantity of green compost from Waste Recycling Group at the nearby Gowy Landfill Site. Being fairly extensive, the next logical step was to consider becoming fully organic, but we were prevented from doing so by two factors. One was the use of sewage cake, and the other was that we would have had to send cattle for slaughter at an organically accredited abattoir, with the nearest being at Uttoxeter (60 miles away) or on Anglesey (80 miles away). This would have led us to having to charge more for lower quality beef from more stressed animals which had travelled further to be killed. We were also concerned about the environmental impact of the increase in extra fuel which this would have entailed.
So LEAF Marque accreditation seemed ideal, and we went for it and gained it for the first time in February 2011. LEAF Marque has been a huge benefit in terms of publicity and marketing to the extent that we are now struggling to meet the demand for our Red Poll beef. It is a guarantee to our customers that we are managing the land in a sustainable way and caring for our cattle to the highest standards. The rigorous annual audit helps to ensure that good intentions are put into practice, and being in LEAF Marque is helping us to save money by encouraging, for example, rainwater harvesting and reduced fuel use. Do I really need to use a tractor and trailer, or could I just do the job with a wheelbarrow?!
It may seem a big step to take, but I urge livestock farmers to look at joining the growing ranks of LEAF Marque producers. You will find you can both save money and command a premium price for what you work so hard to produce. And, as importantly, it is immensely satisfying seeing the increase in biodiversity on the farm year by year.