Northumberland farmer Stuart Hyslop’s enthusiasm for
the future of organic livestock and arable production has led
to the development of the northern counties’ first fully
organic blending and milling plant.
|Stuart Hyslop with
his Angus cross cattle
Stuart Hyslop and his wife Wendy over the past five
years have been building up a sizeable organic production
unit within their diverse range of farming operations near
Belford, predominantly producing organic lamb and beef and
through Dawn Meats, supplying Marks & Spencer and ASDA.
Now, with demand for specialist feeds from the increasing
number of north livestock producers who are converting to
organic production – as well as more arable farmers
in the region converting their production to organic – the
Hyslops have taken the opportunity to start a new business,
Northumbrian Organic Feeds.
This winter the aim is to sell around 2,000 tonnes of three
100 pc organic blended feeds for beef cattle and sheep from
the Hyslop’s Easington Farm which along with their other
holdings totals 3,500 acres.
By 2007 extensive buildings formerly used as potato
store at Easington will also incorporate a milling and pelleting
plant to complement the current crushing, mixing and weighing
equipment producing the blends, all certified under Organic
Farmers and Growers.
The £300,000 investment, whose nearest all-organic
plant in the north is believed to be in Derbyshire, will meet
not only the increase in demand for organic feeds but also
tighter regulations which come into force in 2008 initially
preventing organic beef and sheep producers and eventually
all livestock and poultry farmers from using feeds which are
not totally organic.
The investment has attracted a 30 per cent Defra Processing
and Marketing grant the application for which was put together
by Louis Fell, of George F White.
“We began our organic conversion at Wrangham Farm,
Lowick in 1999, following with Birchwood Hall, Newham Buildings
and Roughlees in 2000. In 2004 we bought Easington Farm
and immediately entered it into organic conversion,” said
“Originally, my idea with blending and milling was
to add value to our own production – we grow between
800 and 1,000 acres of arable crops, mainly wheat and beans.
“We need feed for our own livestock enterprise but
I also felt there would be demand locally because of the number
of livestock farmers converting to organic production. There
is also more interest from arable farmers which has led to
Coastal Grains investing in an organic store at Belford which
I use. This all cuts down on food miles which are of course
a current debate.”
With help from Alex Haywood of the Northumbria Organic Producers,
Stuart sent out a survey to all the organic producers in the
North East and some very positive responses came back.
Most were struggling to find reasonably priced organic feed
in the area. “Once we had these responses back, I knew
that there was a demand for an organic mill in the area and
Easington seemed the ideal location, he said.”
To test the demand, last winter around 400 tonnes of blended
feed were sold. This winter’s target will use around
60 per cent of the home-produced arable crops, supplemented
by bought in beans because of a poor year generally for bean
crops as well as barley and oats to make up a shortfall.
Some of the production will be used for the Hyslops’ own
100-cow suckler herd and 300 Angus cross and Charolais cross
cattle which are finished each year, as well as around 2,500
ewes producing their own replacements from a hill flock and
finishing 5,000 Suffolk cross and Texel cross lambs over 11
months of the year, 2,000 of which are bought-in. All are
sold through Dawn Meats in Bridlington.
Depending on market fluctuations, Mr Hyslop says the retail
mark-up on his arable crops without deducting production costs
is between 20 and 30 per cent of commodity prices.
However, because feeds are primarily intended for local use – and
raw ingredients are mainly sourced from within the area – retail
prices are very competitive. Buyers have the opportunity to
further contain costs by collecting feeds themselves instead
of bulk or bagged delivery.
The demand particularly from organic sheep producers has
led to the second phase of feed production, the milling and
“There is a requirement from producers who feed sheep
mechanically for rolls which can be fed on the ground with
no waste so we will be adding a pelleted range to our current
three blends which vary on protein content by next winter.
We can also produce specialised blends to order,” said
The new business has led to the employment of a full-time
sales and marketing man, Robin Scott, who has had 25 years’ experience
in the livestock feed business.
Stuart Hyslop admits that originally the attraction of organic
conversion of the farming operation was the financial benefits.
“I’m totally ‘converted’ myself to
the system now which is a return to much more traditional
farming methods. The benefits are as much from the reduced
working capital outlay and input costs, particularly on the
arable side, to the premium you are receiving from the commodity,” he
“There is a good margin between conventional and organic
prices for cattle and arable crops so you can be making more
money by producing a premium, added-value product which is
still in a growing market.
“We haven’t encountered disease in our livestock
or disease and weed problems in our arable crops. In fact,
we have found our arable crops are less prone to changes in
the weather and seasons and are naturally more resilient.
“The arable cropping with clover breaks is ideally
suited to the type of mixed livestock systems we have in Northumberland.”
Another benefit in conversion for the Hyslops was that Easington
suited Higher Level Stewardship as there are rare Whinsill
grasslands - a primary target for DEFRA.
Louis Fell said: “The new HLS options fit nicely with
the type of farming Stuart wanted to achieve at Easington.
The Whinsill is a primary feature and through grazing restrictions,
we are aiming to increase the biodiversity of the site and
the grassland species.
“The area is also a tree sparrow hotspot and the rotational
wild bird plots, grass margins and undersown spring crops
will help provide habitats for these birds top thrive in.”
The Higher Level Stewardship scheme will also help fund the
clearing of the scrub from the Whinsill and protect an ancient
iron age settlement near the farm steading. Stuart and Wendy
have also agreed to allow permissive access along the Whinsill
so other people can benefit from this valuable landscape feature.
© Copyright 2007 Jennifer
MacKenzie All Rights
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