Youngstock - 8 June, 2007
In the last of the FG/Waitrose Best Young Farmer Producer finalist features, LIZ FALKINGHAM visits the west coast of Cumbria to see how Richard Mawson is making the most of the family farm’s isolated location
THE past 18 months has been a very busy time for Richard Mawson and his family – a new dairy, open days, food fairs and shows, visitor groups and building a new customer base have all been packed onto the agenda.
Pedigree cattle have always been at the heart of the Mawson operation, and both Richard and his brother, Stephen, are adamant that the new processing venture is simply about keeping the farm viable for the herd.
“It’s still our first love,” says Richard, “and my hope is that eventually the processing side will grow to the point that we can employ a manager. Then I’ll be back like a shot to the cows!”
He describes Bailey Ground as ‘hemmed in’ – with the sea to the west, the Sellafield Nuclear plant to the north and the mountains to the east – and the scarcity of land has made expanding the cow numbers difficult. While the isolated and land-limited location may not be ideal, the plan has been to turn this to their advantage, says Richard.
“The population on the west coast is around 250,000, and I have spoken to other dairy producers who have 25,000,000 million people within their distribution area, but that 250,000 is in many ways a captive market. It’s tricky to get things in, and my philosophy is why bother, when we can produce it here?”
Once the decision had been made to go into processing, Richard went full steam ahead – a state of the art dairy was put into an existing building, with a new, separate entrance put in to keep the farm and dairy as separate entities. The dairy also has a cold room and generator.
The outdated parlour has also been replaced with a good quality, secondhand 20/40 herringbone.
“Milking was a nightmare, it was taking hours every day. We got the new parlour for a good price, although it cost us the same again to install it, but now the 160 cows in milk do through in an hour and a half – the time we are saving in the parlour can be used to retail our products,” says Richard.
Officially opened on August 13 last year, the processing plant is capable of processing and bottling around 4,550 litres an hour. The milk is pumped directly from the parlour to the dairy where it is pasteurised, homogenised, separated and bottled as necessary.
“When we first started, we learnt a lot about how not to bottle milk! We weren’t getting the milk cool enough quickly enough, and there was too much agitation, which was damaging the fat content, so the milk wouldn’t froth when used for coffee, for example,” says Richard.
“The result was lots of bad customer feedback. In a way, though, this experience did us a favour – it taught us a lot in a short period of time, and we made sure we got things right.”
Part of the improvement was the replacement of the original bottling plant with the current 4,500-litre an hour unit. This new plant ensures that the milk is pumped and handled as little as possible and this, combined with a high temperature steam cleaning system and fast chilling after production, means the quality and shelf life is second to none, he says.
“Now we have no problems at all – the milk is labelled as having an eight-day shelf life, but I’m confident it would keep longer. Because it is only pumped twice, the milk froths better – I’ve visited the cafes that take our milk and they rave about it.”
There are now four vans and a milk float ferrying Mawsons produce out in a 30-mile radius of the farm. Along with milk and cream goes lots of other products which have rapidly been added to the offering as the business has grown.
As semi skimmed milk is their biggest seller, the result is plenty of cream produced – and this gave Richard an idea to expand the range of products offered.
“I couldn’t see the point of making butter and cheese ourself when there are so many expert makers out there – we did our research and decided the best local cheese makers were in Lancashire (about 70 miles away).
“Now, we take our cream to Dewlays at Garstang for them to churn into butter and take back a tonne of cheese a week and butter, all branded as Mawsons. This goes out on the rounds with everything else.”
This idea was also expanded out to include products such as fudge.
“We were selling butter and cream to Romneys at Kendal, and it seemed a good idea to ask them to make a fudge for us. We’ve also approached English Lakes about producing a rum butter ice cream in time for the Maritime festival, which will be our first ice cream,” says Richard.
The Maritime provided the inspiration for a joint venture on rum butter specifically targeted at tourists visiting the festival.
“It was too good an opportunity to miss,” says Richard.
Butter tablets (similar in consistency to Kendal mint cake), smoothies, potatoes, eggs and yoghurts also go out with the dairy products. A full van goes into the Sellafield plant every day, and many local cafes, coffee shops, pubs, hotels and restaurants also take them.
Gaining new customers has come about as a result of generating publicity – much of it free.
“I’m a big believer in free publicity. We arranged an open day with barbeque and displays and sent out invites to 2,000 homes – and 600 people came along. The benefit to us was huge – not only in terms of them knowing about our products, but we also went frombeing the place that created noise and smell to ‘their village farm’.”
He also attends shows and fairs to help create brand awareness and the latest project is a 20ft trailer to be converted into a mobile farmshop.
“Shows are an excellent chance to advertise – we take along the pet llama and cow to draw people to the stand. We’ll be stocking products like fudge, rum butter and smoothies that people can easily take away,” says Richard.
The aim now is to gather up as many small businesses as possible onto the client list. Talks are underway with a local wholesaler to supply Mawsons products into a garage chain.
“We’re also planning to have a mini food festival at the farm. There’s lots to do still, always lots to do,” says Richard, with a smile.
Name: Richard Mawson
Bailey Ground Farm, Seascale, Cumbria, farmed as K.M. and K.M. Mawson. 350 acres of owned/tenanted land, used for the 160-cow pedigree dairy herd.
Mawsons of Bailey Ground dairy, based on the farm in a dedicated processing unit. Milk, cream and butter produced, with a range of other products including rum butter, smoothies, cheese and fudge done in association with other local producers. Also buys in other food items such as eggs and potatoes to go alongside the dairy products on the domestic and commercial rounds.
The focus is on supplying food within a 30-mile radius of the farm, reducing food miles, and on persuading other local specialist food producers (eg ice cream makers) to use their milk.
Long term aims:
To continue to build the product range in conjunction with other food producers, as well as raising the profile of the business to attract new customers. Would also like to develop an education area on farm.
Link click here