Mike Roberts, his wife Alison and their son Sam manage a mix of beef and arable at Blable Farm near Wadebridge. They own 500 acres of grass, arable, scrubs and wood with a herd of 150 stabiliser x and pedigree stabiliser suckler cows. This year with more of the arable ground seeded to herbal leys they hope to finish all of their growing cattle on the farm.
They are improving the 350 acres of grassland through rotational grazing with the help of The Precision Grazing Company, by the use of herbs and deeper rooting species of grasses and legumes. They have also been looking at the optimisation of herbal leys on their medium loam soil that spans from 50m above sea level to the heights of the Downs where soil is thinner at 200m above sea level with far reaching views of the North Coast of Cornwall.
They are questioning every part of their farming system to improve profitability of the farm, the quality of their meat in their meat box scheme, increase carbon sequestration and ultimately return all the farm land to grass and diverse grass mixtures. They have been trialling different species in their herbal leys, questioning whether he can concurrently improve soils, pastures, herd health, meat quality and the nutritional value of the beef. They will be working with the Farm Net Zero (FNZ) project to quantify the potential change in soil health under these diverse grasslands compared to perennial ryegrass and white clover over the duration of the project. Grasslands of greater species diversity sequester more soil carbon, and thus the profitability of this quality beef production is intrinsically linked to the farm carbon footprint.
In the interim, they winter graze some of their stock on the standard stubble turnip and rape, but they question the detrimental effect of this practice on soil health. They will be trialling whether more diverse winter and summer cover mixtures which are direct drilled in stubble, can be used in place of the more traditional system of ploughing, to return the old pastures back to new leys thus improving grazing quality and soil health. They are also looking into swards that will finish cattle just on grass and herbs without the need of concentrates that could also increase the health and nutritional value of their cattle and meat.
The rest of the winter stock are housed on green waste bedding. They use compost in place of straw due to the cost of importing straw from elsewhere in the county, or even country. The dirtied bedding is removed fortnightly and in the spring used as an organic fertilizer. The carbon footprint, and potential environmental benefits of the Roberts’ bedding innovation will be evaluated as part of the FNZ project.
There will be further opportunities for the Roberts family to work with FNZ to challenge conventional practice, and ensure their forage yields and quality add up to the best tasting meat optimising profitability and quality, and the farm reaches net zero carbon.