FARMERS may well know they are growing the best produce or animals in the most ethical way, but how do they know their hard work is being properly appreciated and compensated by the consumer?
How does environmentally raised produce, careful selection of bloodlines, generational improvements – the provenance of that food – make its way through the hubbub of saleyards, transport, abattoirs, retailers and restaurants to the consumers’ plate?
The answer – branding.
Paul Crock and Sam Standfield-Crock combined with other farmers in the area to form Gippsland Natural Meats.
Gippsland Natural Meats is a producer-owned company that aims to promote free-range, grass-fed beef grown in Gippsland.
Gippsland Natural tries to link the quality of the product with the price returned to the producer – and there are compliance protocols to keep the brand recognisable as high quality beef.
Gippsland Natural targets the food service sector, supplying leading restaurants and steak houses with various cuts, but also value added partnerships such as burgers, gourmet pies and smallgoods.
Gippsland Natural was ahead of the grass-fed consumer demand, Meat Standard Australia (MSA) grading and provenance-based marketing now being seen in high-end butchers and some supermarkets.
It hasn’t been easy, but it has been rewarding.
Paul Crock led a farm walk at his Fish Creek property recently with other producers keen to see how branding has worked for the cooperative business, and the environmental safeguards the family has implemented to keep it’s clean, green reputation through Enviromeat accreditation.
The farm’s environmental policy is not unusual for farmers who have already embraced the Landcare ethos, it is unusual in that it’s written down and informs much of what happens on the farm from day to day.
“At Crockfield Pastoral Company we aim to produce high quality beef and lamb [since discontinued] and associated products (ie wool) in an ecologically sustainable manner,” the policy reads.
“We will do this whilst minimising our direct and indirect environmental and social impacts and conserving our natural resources.”
At the farm walk at Fish Creek, Paul showed how that statement is implemented on the farm.
Crockfield Pastoral was established when Paul Crock and Sam Standfield took over the farm at Fish Creek at the end of 2000.
An ambitious farm plan was developed before any works proceeded.
With more or less a blank canvas, the plan aimed to standardise paddock sizes to improve grazing management, construct tracks and laneways to facilitate movement of stock and improve farm safety by fencing off steep areas, water courses, creating wind breaks, excluding stock to protect remnant vegetation and improve water quality.
Since 2000 the family has planted more than 50,000 indigenous plants, mostly propagated from trees and shrubs on the property or the adjoining rail trail.
Crockfield Pastoral is on 190 acres (approximately 77ha), with 40 acres (16ha) leased to run around 50 spring calvers and 30 autumn calvers.
Paul had been working with the Phillip Island Landcare Group, Victorian Farmers Federation and Alcoa Landcare and noticed a discrepancy with the amount of environmental work farmers were doing, but the lack of financial reward.
“It struck me that farmers were doing all this enviro work, but not getting any more for the beef or their produce,” he said.
“We developed an enviro management system that would bring these farms under a brand.”
There were about 30 families involved initially.
“It’s trendy now, but when we started it was unheard of.
“Our rationale was to develop a market for Gippsland beef – now everyone’s trying to do grass-fed, hormone-free beef.”
Paul said the brand had to evolve into one that guaranteed a superior eating product – before Woolworths made the MSA grading system ‘mainstream’.
With superior beef, Gippsland Natural Beef focused on the restaurant trade where there was better return for product, and provenance for customers – connecting delicious food with the region.
Now Gippsland Natural Beef provides around 15 beasts a week.
“The MSA process involves every link in the production chain to be MSA licenced so that from the farm to the plate, each person knows what is required to ensure the eating quality of the product meets or exceeds the consumers’ expectations,” Paul said.
“From a producer’s perspective, it is important that animals are maintained in a low stress environment, with increasing levels of nutrition especially in the weeks before they are turned off the farm.
“Mixing of mobs is not permitted two weeks prior to their dispatch as the social realignment in this period is enough to impact on the eating quality of the meat.
“To improve animal welfare and especially in the area of stock handling and stock load-out, we have recently embarked on a new set of cattle yards.
“This includes facilities to better manage marking of calves, and new weigh facilities to ensure the animals make the required specifications for Gippsland Natural.”
There is regulation all through the process from farm to plate – the size, fat cover, even the way the beef is hung – all to guarantee tenderness and a customer base that keeps coming back for meat that is ‘a cut above the rest’.