Name of organisation
Devon, Southwest England / Local
Type of organisation
Value added processing (hanging, cutting, packing, freezing) and online retailing
short food supply chains, processing online direct sales, Farmer-led, agroecology
Who is Pipers Farm?
Pipers Farm is made up of 55 acres of beautiful permanent pasture with deep hedgerows. On-site, the family farm rears a herd of native Red Ruby cattle, Suffolk tup lambs and Swaledale mutton sheep. During the summer months, they also have a small parcel of Saddleback pigs.
In addition to the livestock reared at Pipers Farm HQ, they also work with around 40 farms that grow for Pipers Farm and whose products are packaged and sold via Piper’s online shop.
The business was established by Peter and his wife Henri in 1989. Their vision was to build a business that helped to sustain the fabric of smaller-scale farming businesses. Rather than increasing the size of their own operation, they approached local farms about raising animals for them. They started with immediate neighbours, and then it gradually spread through the valley.
Peter and Henri grew the business steadily for many years, but by 2010 they judged that they had reached the limit of what they could achieve on their own. This coincided with their son Will returning to the family farm. With his input, they restructured the business to bring on more staff and allow it to grow into the business it is today.
At present, Pipers Farm works with individual farmers and producers, processing the products and acting as the link to consumers. Customers place orders online, which are dispatched by courier.
Agroecological production systems are the heart of the business. Very high importance is placed on regenerative farming, pasture-fed livestock, slow-growing/native breeds, and high animal welfare. Communicating these messages is a central part of the marketing strategy.
Who do Pipers Farm work with and how do they do it?
Pipers Farm works with 40 producers – the average distance from farm to table is about 58 miles/93 Km. The farmers use their local abattoirs and carcasses are delivered to the Piper’s farm site. They are hung, cut, packed and, if necessary, stored/ frozen.
The key stages/ participants are as follows:
- Individual Producers/ farmers
- Abattoirs serving producers
- Processors/ packers/ retailers (Pipers’ Farm)
Pipers Farm, and Peter personally, has been at the forefront of the campaign to preserve local abattoirs for over 30 years. They underline the different approach needed for short food supply chains in terms of regulation and health and safety requirements, and thus try to bring this perspective to the attention of local authorities and governments.
Furthermore, education is at the heart of all that Pipers Farm does. They underline the importance of agroecological, sustainable farming for their consumers through their marketing strategy and through work with local schools and other community groups. Pipers Farm also brings this idea of education and innovation to the farmers they work with. It’s a question of farmers changing their practices to fit in with Pipers Farm ethos; that can mean using different breeds; relying more on pasture and less on imported feed; building soil health and fertility; etc.
What are Pipers Farm’s main challenges?
The implications of EU directives have had an enormous impact on Pipers Farm, and every other agroecological meat business. The gradual loss of small-scale abattoirs and disease outbreaks serve as a stark warning that if regulation is inappropriately applied, it will have a serious impact on businesses. Policy and regulation has thus far been responsible for the decimation of small–scale abattoirs. At the heart of it is a failure is to recognise the different context of small-scale operations compared to industrial food and farming. In theory, the EU directives (which say what Member States have to achieve but allow each country to decide how) are based on risk (e.g. Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point or HACCP for short), but the understanding of the Government doesn’t allow for them to be implemented in this way.
In local/short supply systems, the end consumer is much more identifiable: butchers know the farmers they work with, and accountability is more direct – and that’s how a marketing system can work based on confidence between customers and the supply chain. If accountability is higher the risk is lower
To have more appropriate regulatory the Meat Hygiene Service Inspectors (MHS)/ Environmental Health Officers (EHO) should lead the process instead of vets. They have the skills to do it, and they see the offal and which carcass meat came from. The requirement to involve veterinarians further impedes the process. Qualified vets trained to help livestock live healthier lives, rather than to supervise their deaths, so there is a massive shortage of veterinarians to do this job, and many that are doing this work for meat processing come from abroad, and now is impacted by Brexit.
Furthermore, there is a general gap in understanding about agroecological systems and why they are important. That is why Pipers marketing strategy is very much based around consumer education. Pipers’ customers are interested and engaged in education initiatives, and are committed to choosing food that benefits the environment, the economy, and the community. However, ideally this education and awareness raising would be carried out also by public authorities, in schools, or through other channels. In the wider context, short supply chain, agroecological food systems contribute to meeting many challenges territories face: carbon sequestration, food security, and long term soil health. It is not only the success of the business that is closely tied into education but rather is closely tied into the education and the well-being of society itself., and this holistic vision makes up part of the identity of Pipers Farm..
Pipers Farm also heavily relies on digital marketing. This has many advantages, but social media can be just as effective at spreading misleading and incorrect information. The organisation therefore works hard to establish Pipers Farm as a reputable, accurate and authoritative source of information, linking to the trust they have built along all of the supply chains in which they are engaged.
What are the priorities for the Pipers Farm?
The fundamental principles of farming the Pipers Farm way is to grow livestock slowly. By selecting the right breeds, with the right diet, they let animals grow at a natural pace. This is of paramount importance to the health and welfare of the stock and it also ensures an animal has developed a proper bone structure and texture in the meat – resulting in higher quality products.
Regenerative farming is also an important element of Pipers Farm. This approach to food and farming systems rejects pesticides, artificial fertilizers, and chemical inputs, and instead focusses on regenerating topsoil, increasing biodiversity, improving water cycles and increasing resilience to climate fluctuation to strengthen the health and vitality of farming communities. Regenerative farming is based on techniques and thinking that integrates organic farming, permaculture, agroecology, agroforestry, restoration ecology, and holistic management. For Pipers Farm, sustainability also includes building economic resilience. Sustainable farming needs to have an economic benefit to the community in order to thrive and adapt. In order to ensure farmers and food producers have opportunities to make sustainable livelihoods through their work, Pipers Farm collaborates with farmers and agree upfront on a fair price to produce the food. The price does not fluctuate with the market and is always honoured.
They have specifically chosen breeds that are native to their part of the world in Devon (southwest England). The traditional Red Ruby cattle breed are well adapted to the terrain and climate in the area. Pipers Farm do not believe you need to cut down acres of rainforest or grow miles of land for grain, but simply utilise what is in abundance right on the doorstep. The ruminant animals only ever eat a diet of 100% pure natural grass, all grown on the farms. Furthermore, the farm’s chicken and pigs, although not ruminants, also eat grass as a high proportion of their diet.
These production methods bring the focus back to quality, not quantity of meat and animals. By moving towards more sustainable, agroecological methods, Pipers Farm believes we should all eat much less meat, and when we do eat meat ensure it has been produced in a way that has respect for the animal, respect for the farmer and respect for the landscape. This also feeds into Pipers Farm’s vision of ensuring society has enough food for the future, looking after our people and planet for the next generation.