A RECENT conference entitled South West Excellence leading the way in food, farming and tourism had speakers demonstrating a firm intention to develop farm produce as a major initiative.
These were not the usual farmer representatives bemoaning the lack of profitability but specialists extolling the excellence of available farm produce. Underpinning the discussions was a recognition that healthy animals are delivered for consumption and that quality food comes from green, welfare friendly production.
At the South West Dairy Event, a direct linkage was shown between the efforts of veterinary surgeons on behalf of their clients and the produce that is sold as a direct result of health planning.
The Delaware Veterinary Group in Somerset had buffalo sausages, various cheeses and other tasty things on its stand, the produce from clients’ farms. It seems important that veterinary advice and action is clearly seen as a part of the food production chain.
Much work needs to be done to achieve this and one of the benefits may be that quality restaurants will welcome veterinary surgeons as informed customers. A highlight has already been given to the chef of the year that the smell of disinfectant on a customer is a sign of intense interest in quality food!
Tom Vosa of Clydesdale Bank commented on the high cereal prices worldwide and the current 20-year low in world stocks. Demand is outstripping supply and terms of trade have moved in favour of agriculture. Higher food prices will be needed to support increases in production. The price of meat is expected to rise, with a rise in farmers’ incomes despite raised input costs for fertilisers and fuel.
In the UK this will mean consumer price inflation with less disposable income. An increase in tourism is likely to come from the Middle East and Asia and the South West currently has a low level of foreign tourists.
An alliance with other gastronomic regions is proposed by Marc Millon, a food, wine and travel writer, with the integration of farming, leisure, food and drink. The South West is seen as having “the best larder in Europe” and bears comparison with the development of Chiantishire, the area around Florence and Sienna.
Tuscan Agriturismo has developed from a poor base and now attracts high-spending tourists from within Italy and beyond. People are looking to rediscover the countryside with its slower pace and to enjoy local produce.
An incitement to consumers has been vital to the Tuscan experience and products are linked to place with emphasis on a protected designation of origin. He emphasises that this is not “budget tourism”. Producers from Tuscany, complete with translator, were introduced, to hear what was being discussed and attending in order to develop the Tuscan-South West links.
Michael Caines, two-star Michelin chef and businessman, described the pride taken within his hotels and restaurants in marketing the difference in the food and hospitality on offer.
A local hotel has more than doubled its turnover by offering local produce and as the hotel business grows so do the businesses of the supplying producers. International recognition of the hotel also gives recognition to the suppliers. Utilising the local larder enables a food culture to be developed which customers appreciate.
An example of producing air-dried pork and beef was highlighted by Jean Cole. She and her husband have developed an air drying process that produces salami that is equivalent to traditional salami from southern Europe. The greatest compliment she received was from a customer who simply believed that the product had to be imported. Prime Cornish beef and pork is dried and matured.
Both she and Mark Sharman, Sharpham wines and unpasteurised cheese, have resisted approaches from supermarkets to retail their products. As small producers, sufficient demand is currently generated by specialist outlets. However, the wine needed to be taken up by recognised outlets in London before local restaurants accepted the brand.
Approximately half of the production is sold on the farm and guided lunch tours are a growth area where people walk the farm and stagger off, loaded with cheeses from the Jersey herd and wine from the vines. Bacchus is the grape variety to look out for if wine is your thing.
One of the highlighted advantages was that customers are met on a face to face basis which is not enjoyed by many farmers. Knowing that people are enjoying your produce is important.
The conference had many sponsors and linked in with a festival of food organised by Taste of the West, and John Sheaves, chief executive, offered further insights. Food is listed among the top three reasons for tourists to visit an area.
Food tourism has great potential. By 2015 it is planned that the South West of England will be the major food region with the best food available in the UK. The model encompasses food quality, provenance, integrity and sustainability. Links with the land and the local culture together with green issues and carbon footprint are important.
Technical expertise is required to introduce change and to add value. Currently there are 214 million trips of visitors to Devon and Cornwall alone with a spend of £4.6 billion. The South West has 18% of the national land area with 50,000 registered holdings and 20,000 farmers.
The agricultural output is three times that of Wales and there are 150 different cheeses produced within the region. Regional branding is important. Emphasis is to be placed on producer support, quality assurance and communication to change perceptions.
Sir Harry Studholme, Perridge estate with arable, sheep and woodland, chaired the conference and encouraged the food-related businesses present to embrace the development of local food. A twinning network between the South West and Tuscany is being arranged and anyone interested should register with firstname.lastname@example.org.
Outside the veterinary practice client box, there appears to be room for recognition of the technical expertise applied to achieve healthy stock. Which veterinary practice will be the first to offer health planning tours for non agriculturalists?