Adapting a production system to reflect changing demand

Beef farmer and Cornish Mutual Member, Tim Lightfoot, farms 580 acres near Stoke Climsland in Cornwall with his wife, Bonny and Son, Jake. The family's 500-strong herd of cattle can be traced back to the 1960's when Tim's uncle imported some Charolais animals from France. The farm supplies meat processor Dunbia and is one of its M&S Select Farm suppliers, meaning much of the farm's beef is supplied to the premium supermarket. 

The quick-growing genetics of the continental breed works well with the farm system, converting homegrown feed into a quality product in around 16 months. As well as grass and silage, the farm grows around 140 acres of barley and wheat to be fed back to the cattle.

“Over the years, we’ve tweaked our system to control our environmental impact as we are very aware this is something consumers and supermarkets are increasingly interested in,” says Tim. “Environmental stewardship is clearly a priority for the government in the future and we are starting to see retailers and processors asking for more information about what we are doing at farm level in terms of carbon use.”

To this end, Tim is already working to reduce the carbon footprint of the farm starting with two areas which he believes have the biggest impact; the amount of animal food the farm buys in and the amount of artificial fertiliser they apply.

“We are now using less fertiliser than before and being more targeted in our application so we only apply to ground that will see the biggest benefit,” continues Tim. “We also grow 80 acres of red clover to reduce our fertiliser use. In terms of feed, we have always grown a lot of feed on the farm but we are trying to grow even more, which is why crops like fodder beet and brassicas now feature in our rotations to provide winter feed. It’s amazing how many ‘meals’ a 12-acre crop of fodder beet will provide! By buying less feed in we also have more control over our costs - even if holding back a bit with our feed rates means we can’t finish cattle quite as quickly as before when we reduce our inputs, we reduce our overall production costs as well as our environmental impact so it’s a double win.”

The farm is also involved in the Stoke Climsland Climate Change Action Group. Here, they are working with Duchy College and other farms to test soils for carbon sequestration, so that the group can obtain a base level for farms in the parish. “It seems a good place to start,” says Tim.

The farm participates in countryside stewardship schemes undertaking activities including pond creation, planting seed mixes to provide food for wild birds, and farming selected fields with very low inputs. “As farmers, we are privileged to be stewards of the countryside and must look after the land in the way our customers expect. We are very proud to rear and feed our beef in a traceable way, producing a high-quality, sustainable end product,” concludes Tim.