Friday, December 6, 2019

Manor Farm: Getting across the message about meat

November 6, 2019 by  
Filed under Profiles

Farmer Mat Grindal is showing consumers the way forward with the facts about meat production.  Simon Wragg reports.

Livestock farmers are under mounting attack from non-meat eaters who often feed consumers misinformation, suggests farmer and retailer Mat Grindal – requiring producers to arm themselves with key facts to demonstrate why meat matters for human health.

Running a 80ha (200ac) mixed farm with his brother, James, and an established farm shop and restaurant based at Manor Farm, Catthorpe, Leicestershire, Mr Grindal has seen first hand how consumers are being cultured by non-meat eating factions.

“These things” he says, holding up a mobile phone, “are helping kill our industry by spreading misinformation.” Easier access 24/7 to social media lobbying rather than sound science-based facts is a flaw farmers have to counter.

“I believe if (food) manufacturers could take meat out of products and produce it in a factory they’d be well happy,” he says, referring to the rise of cultured meat-replacing vegetable proteins. “We’ve all got to educate ourselves.

“As livestock farmers we’re good at what we do but we must arm ourselves with facts. For example, beef and vegetables has been a traditional part of the British diet, but why’s beef important? Because it’s a good source of iron, vitamin B12 and essential minerals.”

Dealing in facts

Mr Grindal recommends the Agricultural and Horticulture Development Board consumer web pages as a good reference for farmers to use. It’s fact-based information should slake the thirst of any consumer’s questioning, he suggests.

The unfounded basis of anti-meat banter really bites. Mr Grindal refers to a recent morning TV interview conducted by Piers Morgan and Susanna Reid and the climate change activist ‘Broccoli Man’ – who stalled when asked for the science and facts to back up an anti-meat monologue.

Education, education, education is the message. Experience from the farm shop, restaurant, and public events held at Manor Farm is that it’s the parenting and grand-parenting age groups that are often poorly informed.

“Most families are another generation away from having an understanding or link to farming,” he explains. “But (livestock farmers) shouldn’t under-estimate the support that’s out there for us. Most of the public sees what we do and if we’re asked a question they respect our answer.”

Promoting the message

With farming likely to be hit hard post Brexit with greater emphasis on support payments geared to environmental factors the risk of a ‘meat tax’ is great, he suggests.

This can be fuelled by short-termism within the political landscape, it’s argued. A period in office is generally four years before an election compared to change brought about by a legislation can impact on land and livestock for a lifetime, he suggests.

There’s admiration for the New Zealand government which recently rounded on lobbyists to defend farming – not least because exports including dairy products and lamb still account for a sizeable portion of the country’s income.

With around 50,000 visitors annually to the shop and restaurant – and around 1000 loyalty card holders – the Grindal family is doing their bit to educate through a periodical newsletter.

Social media is also used as a vehicle for voicing facts on farming. “We’ve about 5000 followers on Facebook but tend to insert links to industry data into Instagram – it is a different audience.

“But knowledge is power; if you can break down an argument with facts then you start to open peoples’ minds. For example, when asked about pesticides we highlight the use of an agronomist for specialist advice. For antibiotics we talk about the use of withdrawal periods (for food safety).”

Integrated system

Customers may be encouraged to also learn the aim of the business – which still sees parents Michael and Susan still actively involved from field to fork – is to increase its self-sufficiency in the supply of meat, vegetables and fruit.

“We have 10-15 acres of potatoes, four acres of fruit, an acre of asparagus and five acres of seasonal vegetables of our own. Signage around the shop shows what we don’t have we try to source locally.”

Cereals from arable operations looked after by his brother James help feed livestock reared to provide meat for the shop and restaurant as well as preserving vital animal gene pools. “The public like to see livestock but they need to know why they’re here.”

Currently, Manor Farm supports around 70 Leicester Longwool ewes, 24 British White suckler cows and their offspring, and around 50 British Lop pigs bought in as weaners.

Another concern is an anticipated impact of the UK leaving the EU on the economy. “What’s really interesting is when times are good we see more trade in the restaurant and spending on cards. When things get tight more customers buy out of the shop and pay with cash as a means of managing household budgets.”

With three generations of the family to support and up to 20 full and part-time staff, in-house budgeting has played its role in making sure the farm business remains sustainable.

“We’ve looked at our figures and have a good understanding of our costs,” he explains, demonstrating education should be outwards as well as within.

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