AFTER almost a 10 year break, the National Trust’s only Cumbrian dairy farm is reverting to organic and, from 1 September, it will send milk to the second largest organic milk pool in the world, the Organic Milk Suppliers Cooperative (OMSCo).
The decision by second generation tenants, the Park family at the 341-acre Low Sizergh Farm near Kendal, will help to keep their business viable in line with their conservation ethos.
Necessity has been the mother of invention as John and Marjorie Park and then son Richard and daughter Alison ensure the farm remains sustainable and resilient. In 1987 they offered pick-your-own, in 1991 they invested in a farm shop and café in 2002 they introduced a farm trail for visitors. They say diversification has served them well – along with producing milk, eggs, fruit and vegetables. And the changes meet the family’s goal of running a farm in a way that is good for the land, the livestock and the environment as well as the wider community; including farm shop stockists and on-site mental health charity and horticultural enterprise, Growing Well.
As Richard Park explained: “My family, including older generations, has constantly adapted their farm practice to remain in business and that includes our organic accreditation. We converted to organic in 2002 but moved away in 2010 because the market was oversaturated and the price we were getting for our milk wasn’t covering the cost of producing it.
“Now there’s a real demand for ethical, sustainable food that people know has been produced to the highest of standards. Membership of OMCSO gives us access to this growing market.
“People can also buy farm grown organic produce direct from our shop and café, including high quality food from other local producers. And our raw, organic milk is available from a vending machine near the milking parlour” added Richard.
The process of converting to organic, to meet standards set by the Soil Association, began two years ago. Whilst the farm’s nature-friendly practices meant it has been relatively straightforward Richard is quick to point out that it has required significant investment too.
“We had to make better use of our manures – plant legumes, such as clover, to fix nitrogen from the atmosphere and avoid feed with GM ingredients,” said Richard Park. Also, because we made the decision to maintain stocking levels of 170 cows, 450 hens and 120 sheep we needed to top up with expensive organic feed during the conversion period as the land adjusted to the new regime. We saw a 25% drop in grass production, but this will rise as our organic and holistic approaches bed in. The rain in 2017 and drought in 2018 also added to our costs,” explained Richard.
“As for our eggs,” Richard added, “which are ‘pastured’ because they come from hens that move around in a portable ‘egg-mobile’, we are in discussions with the Soil Association. This relatively new way of keeping hens, which spend their days roaming fresh pastures, is not covered by criteria for static hen houses,” he said.
Richard expects a Brexit deal to impact on British organic produce. He says a great deal of British organic milk is sold in Europe and it could take time to establish recognition of products certified as organic in the UK. But Richard is confident that the organic investment at Low Sizergh Farm will pay off, for the business and the land itself.
In the meantime, the long-term future goals for the family, with a third generation now involved continue to be, to produce and champion high quality food, safeguard nature and encourage visitors to look and learn. A video describing what organic means and other information is being shared on social media and their website lowsizerghbarn.co.uk and they can be viewed through these links:
Low Sizergh Farm’s organic herd and milk https://vimeo.com/356609506
Apples and damsons in the farm’s organic orchard https://vimeo.com/356665215