Faith in farming grows with a fresh approach

Catherine and Graham Vint, of Hornton Grounds farm, and business partner Simon Thomas

Catherine and Graham Vint, of Hornton Grounds farm, and business partner Simon Thomas

First published in News by

After running her family farm near Banbury for three decades, Catherine Vint is witnessing an increasing trend of people wanting to buy meat directly from farmers to ensure its origins.

Mrs Vint, 58, who raises Aberdeen Angus cattle, sheep and pigs on Hornton Grounds farm, said: “We’re really noticing particularly the younger mums wanting to know the true locality of where the meat comes from.”#

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The Vints inspect their sheep

They were also hungry for information on the most economical cuts of meat and how to cook them.

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A sign to the farm

Mrs Vint puts it down to a generational change, as her baby-boomer peers had learnt from their parents. “I think the young generation don’t know,” she said.

Mrs Vint’s farm, which she runs with husband Graham and their business partner Simon Thomas, is one of five in Oxfordshire participating in Open Farm Sunday on June 8.

About 352 farms across the UK will open their gates to the public in an attempt to improve understanding about British farming practices and food.

Open Farm Sunday is in its ninth year. The event attracted more than 200,000 people across the UK last year, of whom 17 per cent had never visited a farm before, and 42,415 in the South East, which includes Oxfordshire.

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Selling produce direct to the public has become profitable for Lucy Blackwell

The farm day is organised by LEAF (Linking Environment And Farming), a registered charity that promotes sustainable farming.

Activities at participating farms vary, but include farm tours, walks, sheep shearing and cooking demonstrations. People are advised to check the website farmsunday.org for farms in their local area.

Annabel Shackleton, Open Farm Sunday manager, said: “It’s mainly that experience of getting out to a farm to see what farming is about.

“Especially after ‘horsegate’ and people looking at the provenance of food, I tell farmers they have got to show the dedication they have in producing food.”

In early 2013, the nation was shocked to discover horse meat had been found in what was being sold as processed beef. Consumer confidence in meat plummeted.

Mrs Shackleton said 40 per cent of the farms involved with Open Farm Sunday last year had a farm shop, selling produce direct to the public.

Lucy Blackwell, 33, decided to do just that when she returned from agricultural college a decade ago to help run Challow Hill Farm in Wantage, which has been in her family for five generations.

Miss Blackwell’s aim was to raise the farm’s profitability but the enterprise has only recently “started to make a small profit”.

Most of her customers come from within a 15-mile radius of the farm, which has Irish Moiled and Dexter cattle, Zwartbles sheep and pigs.

She attributes the upsurge in buying meat directly from farmers to not only the ‘horsegate’ scandal, but also incorrect food labelling and genetically modified foods.

“People are more interested in where the meat comes from, its life history and how it has been reared,” said Miss Blackwell.

Some customers even wanted to know how long an animal had been with its mother.

Miss Blackwell said other issues facing English cattle farmers were a drop in demand for beef from supermarkets and reduced beef prices. The latter was due to increased beef imports from Ireland, she said.

Nerys Wright, assistant regional manager for South East and East Anglia for the English beef and sheep industry body EBLEX, confirmed English beef prices had fallen by about 50 pence to £3.60 per deadweight kilo since late 2013.

“There are a lot of factors,” she said. These included increased beef imports from Ireland, lower domestic consumer demand for beef, and more cattle in England that are also bigger than in previous years.

Dredging is answer to a longer term rejuvenation

Oxfordshire farmers are disappointed at red tape limiting the Government’s flood relief funds and have urged authorities to resume river maintenance to prevent future flooding.

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David Cameron visits farmer Tim Hook on his flooded fields near Cote, West Oxfordshire, in February

Although the Government announced on April 28 a second phase of the Farming Recovery Fund, which now enables farmers to receive up to £35,000 each to compensate for flooding earlier this year, many county farmers find the financial assistance restrictive and confusing.
Brian Franklin said he did not apply for phase one funding because of “all the paperwork” and the amount was so little.

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Brian Franklin said too much paperwork was involved in applying for phase one of the Farming Recovery Fund

Mr Franklin’s Moorlands Farm, near Kidlington, had 150 acres in flood. He lost grass for feeding cattle and as a consequence had to sell 50 beasts.
The nearby River Ray needed to be dredged, he said.
Tim Hook, who had about 400 acres in flood at his Cote Lodge Farm, near Bampton, said the first round of funding “didn’t work for us”.
Mr Hook, who runs the
1,700-acre farm with his father John, said he had lost about £100,000 in revenue from the wheat, oilseed rape and grazing grass that were destroyed in the floods.
Mr Hook met Prime Minister and Witney MP David Cameron in February when he inspected the flood-stricken farmlands.
Although Mr Hook praised the Government for trying to “act quickly”, he said maintenance had to resume on the River Thames and other major waterways.
National Farmers’ Union South East spokeswoman, Isobel Bretherton, said the first phase of Government funding “wouldn’t have covered a lot of the losses” and that many farmers “wouldn’t have bothered [applying] because it was too onerous”.
“We were pleased and it was welcome but farmers were telling us there wasn’t enough money to go around,” she said.
Ms Bretherton said farmers could not insure crops that were in the open because the premiums were too expensive.
The Government announced in February it would give between £500 and £5,000 per farmer in flood assistance. But this was contingent upon farmers obtaining three quotes for work to be done by contractors.
After lobbying by farmers, the Government last month released phase two, which allocates a maximum of £35,000 per farmer. Applications close on June 27.
But the money cannot be used for lost income or crop seeds. It is confined to areas such as restoring soil, mending tracks, and, in exceptional cases, replacing damaged machinery or fixing buildings.
A Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs spokesman said: “We worked closely with farmers and the NFU to ensure the £10m Farming Recovery Fund gave them what they needed to restore their land and bring it back into production as quickly as possible after the devastation of winter floods.”
Questioned on dredging, the spokesman replied: “We are looking at all potential options to tackle flooding and are spending more than ever before on flood defences and maintenance. The Environment Agency has spent £2.5m on dredging and providing temporary defences in Oxford in the last five years. This work helped to protect up to 150 properties in the recent floods.”

Open farm sunday events in oxfordshire

White House Farm
Kiddington, Woodstock, OX20 1BS
Email andyjgoffe@hotmail.com
Phone: 07557 343221
Highlights: Meet the animals, static machinery display, hosted farm tour, 2pm to 4pm

Challow Hill Farm
East Challow, Wantage, OX12 9PD
Email: lucyjb23@live.com
Phone: 07899 981551
Website: challowhillmeats.co.uk
Highlights: Meet the animals, tractor and trailer rides, food available, farm shop and fresh produce, disabled facilities, free entry, but charge for certain activities, 10am to 4pm.

Hornton Grounds Farm
Hornton, Nr Banbury, OX15 6HH
Email: catherine@
horntongrounds.com
Phone: 01295 678318
Website: horntongrounds.co.uk
Highlights: Meet the animals, hosted farm tour, farm shop and fresh produce, walk starts at 11am.

Field Farm
Shirburn Road, Lewknor,
Watlington, OX49 5RR
Phone: 01844 355506
Email: crose@chilternsaonb.org
Highlights: Meet the animals, tractor and trailer rides, static machinery display, hosted farm tour, food available, disabled facilities, 11am to 3pm.

Shiplake Farm
Shiplake, Henley-on-Thames, RG9 4BX
Email: stephen.doble@hotmail.co.uk
Phone: 0118 9902091
Highlights: Meet the animals, tractor and trailer rides, static machinery display, hosted farm tour, food available

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