Sustainable and innovative farming on Dartmoor has been recognised in the prestigious British Farming Awards.
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Mat Cole, director of Dartmoor Farmers Association (DFA), scooped gold in the ‘sheep innovator’ category at the awards event held at the National Conference Centre, Birmingham.
The awards, celebrating the achievements of British farmers across the agricultural industry, attracted more than 700 farmers and industry professionals and covered a range of categories including technology, innovation, agricultural student of the year and farming heroes.
Competition in the sheep category was fierce with over 34,000 people employed on sheep farms and other 111,405 in allied industries. Judges praised Mat for leading the DFA, bringing farmers together and effectively marketing lamb.
Mat said: “I am very proud to receive this award which I accept on behalf of the DFA who work so hard to supply our niche product. In uncertain times innovation is even more critical. We are a group of farmers looking to add value to a natural quality product and we have the vehicle now to continue driving it forward.”
Mat was instrumental in establishing DFA in 2007, a co-operative of farmers which is supported by Dartmoor National Park Authority, HRH, the Prince of Wales and the Duchy of Cornwall and the Dartmoor Hill Farm Project. HRH, the Prince of Wales, continues to endorse the Dartmoor Farmers Association brand and takes a keen interest in the co-operative’s development.
In partnership with his brother Neil, Mat farms 809 enclosed hectares (2000 acres) on Dartmoor grazing sheep, cattle and ponies on five different shared commons. They run a traditional system using hardy native breeds selected and bred to thrive among the tors of Dartmoor.
Dartmoor National Park Authority’s Director of Conservation and Communities Ally Kohler said: “We are delighted for Mat and the DFA to receive this award after years of hard work. Promoting the link between the landscape, environment and livestock is important and allows our visitors to understand the role farming plays in shaping our National Park.”
Mat played a key role in creating a new supply chain where 75 farmers work together to supply Morrison's stores in the South West with a range of five lamb products for their ‘The Best’ range. By working together and marketing their product effectively they are able to achieve a premium price.
Morrison's Livestock and Farming Development Manager Sam Trick said: “Sourcing local producers is a key priority for Morrison’s. The DFA is a known and respected brand in its local area and customers love that and the lambs’ wonderful flavour. The association is great to work with because its members are always thinking about the end customer and ensuring the best product arrives on our shelves.”
Mat said: “Although we still have our individual farm businesses what is different now for Dartmoor farmers is that we are working together to secure a new premium market and with it our future. We are engaging with the most important partner in the supply chain, the customer and demonstrating the relationship between our farms and the special landscape of Dartmoor.”
Mat and his wife Gemma open their gates annually for a ‘lambing live’ event encouraging the public to come onto the farm and to share in activities throughout the year. He is a great believer in ‘sharing the secret’ and works hard to promote native breeds through showing, breed societies and public events.
He added: “We are committed to getting the public onto our farms and educating them about the farming systems on Dartmoor which deliver so much from food to carbon sequestration and clean water and air. I very much hope this award will be a platform for the Association to move another step forward and safeguard the viability of our farms.”
Ed and Julie Williams of Northacombe Farm were nominated in the ‘beef innovator’ award category. They supply lambs and cattle to the DFA and have their own herds of pedigree Belted Galloway and red Aberdeen Angus cows.
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