A conversation with Matt Chatfield, the founder of Cornwall Project, to talk about the crucial impact of ruminants on land, how to build a successful business by farming with nature, and how to create a guaranteed market.
LISTEN TO THE CONVERSATION ON:
Matt is potentially the laziest farmer in the UK! With him we go deep into why conventional farming in the UK has failed and is failing and what can be done differently, why animal impact is crucial and how you can build a very successful business by farming with nature, while looking very carefully at margins, costs, input and most importantly creating a guaranteed market.
Guaranteed market is key
Matt started finding his market and distribution channels through his local butcher. He went up to London and started to build a market by approaching chefs and a generation of chefs found exactly what they wanted: high- protein animals that have no fat.
‘I don’t know how it happened […] I suppose instinct, really?’ – Matt Chatfield
‘So, I decided that I needed to get a guaranteed market for what I was going to produce […] I’m never gonna let someone else dictate my price.’ – Matt Chatfield
‘It was the same thing for my granddad, suddenly the supermarkets came and they wanted really high protein animals that have no fat because that’s how they can make money. So suddenly we had all these beautiful native breeds of animals live in North Devon…’ – Matt Chatfield
If you farm for nature, flavour looks after itself
Matt’s job is to try and make sheep as relaxed as possible and to get them eating incredible stuff. He’s got 150 plants in that wood and shows us what can happen if you add ruminants to ancient woodland.
‘All the flavour is in the meat already because they’ve done all their walking. What I’m now trying to do is get incredible flavour on that fat […] I want animals as thin as I can get, then I can add totally new fat. And when you try to age, that fat permeates into the meat, so it’s so important’ – Matt Chatfield
‘I would say every single plant in that wood is communicating underneath the soil with a mycelial network […] If you’ve got a whole mycelial network and the whole wood has been that for at least 300 years the stuff is extracting… you can see the vibrancy of plants, you can see when a plant is firing, it just is luminescence, just bright green and everything in my wood, all the time, is bright green.’ – Matt Chatfield
Focus on the ex-vegans as your target market
When vegans visit the farm, they have a positive reaction. According to Matt there isn’t really a hard argument behind that. Ex vegans form the fastest growing market in the UK. They’re realizing that you need animal fats of some sort in your diet and, at the same time, they’re looking for ethical systems.
‘I talked to vegans and environmentalists […] I think I’ve probably come up with a farming system that can answer those questions.’ – Matt Chatfield
‘At any one time, 1% to 2% of the population is vegan, […] the research shows that 84% of vegans give up after one year. So, the population in the UK is six 60 million, it’s probably 1 million vegans at any one time, a year later, 840,000 of those will be actually ex-vegans […] I think those people are wonderful, they obviously care about the planet, they do care about sentient beings.’ – Matt Chatfield
‘I literally kill 20 sentient beings by acre per year, I farm 20 sheep per acre, per year. So I farm about 600 sheep on about 30 acres of pasture […] but if I grow veg, I’m gonna have to pay that field and when I pay that, I’m probably going to kill 10,000 sentient beings, I’m going to kill shrews […] if you already grow potatoes, for at least three or four years, hardly anything is going to live on that field. So not only am I killing everything to start with, I’m ruining the ecosystem for the rest of it. But if I just keep on killing my 20 sentient beings, and I’m giving them a good retirement, then I’ve created an ecosystem for literally 10s of 1000s of sentient beings, so they don’t really come and debate me now.’- Matt Chatfield
Animals allow you to make money from your inputs
How do you grow as much food for people without all the inputs or make money from the inputs, which is the ruminant or the pig? Such a mental flip is needed and still many people will probably say that that can’t be true. Systems with less input or even zero and with really good output and margins are viable.
‘I looked at how many pigs he was producing from his land. At the moment, we’ve got 9 million pigs in factories. If 20% of arable farmers in the UK, did what he did and used pigs as part of their rotation, then those 9 million pigs could be taken from factories and go on land. And then I think in time, you’re going to realize that because he’s not paying for chemicals, pigs are his chemical, they’re his fertilizer, he’s actually making money from his input.’ – Matt Chatfield
‘I know that, I can guarantee that I can make an income from my sheet. I’ve only just scratched the surface of where I can take this. But I then also think I’ll introduce cows into my system, and I think I’ll introduce chickens, and what I really want to move towards is like multi-storage grown, that’s where we can produce huge amounts of food.’ – Matt Chatfield
Start trusting what farmers say and see. Nobody understands their land better
Journalists need to start thinking critically, or we should ignore mainstream media and listen to farmers more. Farmers are capable of changing things incredibly quickly if they need to.
‘We need to trust the judgment of what farmers are seeing with their own eyes […] But you need to start realizing that all we actually want to do is feed people and actually earn enough money to live, we don’t actually want to destroy the planet. Start working with us and trust us because… I sit there probably four or five hours a day just watching my land and walking, no one knows that better than I do. I know what’s going on. So, start trusting what farmers are saying.’ – Matt Chatfield
OTHER POINTS DISCUSSED
Koen and Matt also talked about:
- Government schemes
- Water storage
- What Matt would do if he had a magic wand
- The Cornwall Project on Instagram
- James Rebanks’ book
- James Rebanks’ Twitter
- Oxford real farming conference
- The Great Animal Orchestra by Bernie Krause video – Another video – Story
- Bernie Krause’s TED Talk
- Fred Price and his farm
- His butcher Philipp Warren
- What is the role of fully vertically integrated products in the regenerative transition of a farmer? Tomasu Soy Sauce
- Charles Eisenstein – Money or ecology: investors have to make a choice on which master they serve
- Isabella Tree – Rewilding a 3,500 acre British farm that was never profitable before
Feedback, comments, suggestions? Reach me via Twitter @KoenvanSeijen, in the comments below or through Get in Touch on this website.
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The above references an opinion and is for information and educational purposes only. It is not intended to be investment advice. Seek a duly licensed professional for investment advice.