Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Lincoln Red cattle beef up thriving arable unit

February 1, 2018 by  
Filed under Profiles

Lincolnshire agronomist Amy Jobe rears top quality beef on the family farm near Louth. Alan Stennett reports.

Direct sales of traditional beef and an agronomy role that involves green household waste is an unusual combination, but all in the day’s work for Amy Jobe.

Amy sells beef from her 40-strong herd of pedigree Lincoln Reds, kept on the 1250ha family farm at South Elkington, near Louth, Lincolnshire, while also working with her father, Charles Dobson, as the farm’s agronomist. That includes composting and using 14,000t of green waste a year from the local district council and other sources.

After studying agriculture at Reading University, Amy trained as an agronomist before coming back to the family business. She now looks after 950ha of arable cropping, grown on a range of soils dumped at the edge of the chalk Wolds as the glaciers retreated at the end of the last Ice Age.

Winter cropping comprises some 450ha of wheat and 100ha of oilseed rape. But blackgrass concerns have led to the farm dropping the 75ha winter barley that used to feature in favour of spring barley and beans.

Some land is also contracted out for peas and some is currently fallowed – although it may go into spring  crops later this year. But that depends on an assessment of the degree of blackgrass contamination.

Changing thinking

“I work with the sprayer operator going round all the fields and categorise them one to four – one means no blackgrass and four means no crops,” Amy explains. “Everything is changing, and changing quite a lot, but it is exciting because you’ve got to keep thinking, and justifying what you are doing.”

Green wastes play a key role in the farm’s agronomy.  The material is delivered to a dedicated 1ha site on the farm where it is sorted and cleared of plastics and other solid contaminants before being turned into compost.

That is all applied on the farm’s own land, as is their own cattle manure.  Amy describes it as “absolutely” invaluable, especially on the chalk loams, which are nutritionally quite light, and not exactly conducive to good yields,

Yield benefits are hard to quantify, but input costs have fallen significantly as a result of using the green waste. “It is phenomenal, particularly, as my father would say, as we are turning people’s waste into a good product.

“We only apply 10 tonnes of phosphate a year over the whole farm, and no potassium for the last ten years. Nitrogen has been reduced, although that is harder to quantify because you don’t know exactly what has been released in any given year.

“It has certainly raised the organic matter in the soil and improved its workability – the land isn’t so harsh, and wearing parts on machinery are lasting longer – not just yields, it’s the whole picture.”

Beef production

Three years ago, Amy decided to branch out into beef production. Her father already ran a substantial single suckler herd of mixed continental cross cows on the 300ha of permanent grassland that includes two areas of parkland, lost medieval villages and steep chalk slopes that do not lend themselves to cropping. Amy decided to do something different.

“I decided to try some Lincoln Reds. They are the traditional breed around here, and my grandfather had a significant herd of them, so I thought I could help maintain the breed, learn more about cattle for myself and make some money for the farm.”

The marketing strategy would have to be different to that of her father, who finishes his bulls entire on the farm and sends the heifers as stores to the local market.

“His are a lot easier to sell and a lot quicker to sell. The bulls finish on grain and go off at 13-14 months, and he is horrified that my Lincolns are so slow growing. They aren’t ready until they are 24-26 months, but grass-feeding means they cost less in that respect, although housing space is still a consideration.”

The cattle spend most of the year out to grass, only coming in for the winter months, during which they feed on hay and silage from their own fields, which have not been fertilised for many years.

Maximum flavour

Amy claims that the grass-only diet results in a well-marbled beef, complemented by enough fat on the outside – courtesy of a small amount of rolled barley mixed into the final diets – to bring out the maximum flavour while the meat is hung.

Added value had to be the selling point, she decided, based on meat quality and provenance. Trading as Lincoln Russet, she originally planned to distribute meat to local restaurant with a van, but that proved impractical.

However, a lucky break allowed her to get established in London, to where she sends whole sides, as well as developing a local market in beef boxes and individual joints alongside local restaurants and other outlets.

Amy now supplies meat boxes to nearly 100 customers, and runs a mobile burger stall using their own beef with other quality local produce, including Poacher cheese. She claims the business model could be copied by others in a similar situation.

“Anybody could do it – it’s a lot of hard graft, but when somebody texts you on a Sunday afternoon to say they have just had a fantastic roast it is very satisfying and rewarding.”

But how does she find time to do all that she does on the farm as well as running Lincoln Russet and being a wife and mother of two? She admits that the combination occupies most of her waking hours but says she enjoys the challenge.

“I think if you are doing a job you love, it isn’t really a job. Someone said that if you wake up on a Monday feeling the same way you do on a Friday, then you are in the right job, and that is just how I feel.”

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