Matthews Cotswold Flour, one of the UK’s oldest, but still innovative, family-run flour mills, based at Chipping Norton, is marking World Soil Day on 5th December by underlining its commitment to regenerative farming methods that turn the tide on the degradation of soil health.
Bertie Matthews, the company’s Managing Director, said: “Matthews Cotswold Flour is a family business that has been trading grain and milling flour in the heart of the Cotswolds for over 200 years. I would like to think that my family will be continuing this tradition for many years to come and that is why we have made the commitment to work in partnership with our local farmers to ensure our business is helping to preserve the fertility of the soil for future generations.”
He added: “It has been widely reported that we might only have 50 harvests left if we continue to allow soil decay in industrial agricultural systems. We want to do everything that we can to change that outlook which is why we set up the Cotswold Grain Partnership to guarantee a fair price for our local farmers who are prepared to adopt regenerative farming methods such as diversification, use of natural fertilisers, crop rotation and reduced ploughing.”
“In the past, the focus for our industry has been to produce as much generic flour as possible for as little as possible but this simply isn’t sustainable. In partnership with our local farmers, we have introduced huge diversification in the range of grains that we use including many ancient or heritage grains. Moving away from intensive farming practices is the first step in protecting the health of our soil which is fundamental to the future of agriculture in our area. However, there are many other benefits too. Diversification enables a reduction in the reliance on chemical fertilisers, offsets the risks of a poor harvest for any one type of grain and engenders an enhanced wildlife habitat.”
Bertie adds: “There are upsides for our customers too, beyond the satisfaction of knowing that their flour is produced in a way that is kind to the planet. This diversification has put Matthews Cotswold Flour at the forefront of the specialist flour market, introducing the nation’s artisan and home bakers to a huge range of unique grains and blends. This gives them access to an unparalleled choice of flours that produces a huge variety of fabulous tasting, nutritious bakes. Everyone benefits.”
Matthews Cotswold Flour’s sustainable journey began when Bertie met Ian Wilkinson, the founder of Farm ED, located just up the road from the family-run mill. Farm ED is a not for profit organisation, that aims to ‘inspire and educate people to build sustainable farming and food systems that nourish people and regenerate the planet.’ Ian has been transforming his 107 acre Cotswold farm over the last eight years, moving away from an intensive mono-culture to a complex rotation with deep rooting herbal lays, animal grazing and natural fertilisation. The resulting improved health of the farm’s soils has ensured high quality crops, wildlife-friendly habitats and greater retention of carbon in the soil, otherwise known as carbon sequestration.
Ian said: “Here in the UK there are five million acres of wheat, effectively grown as single varieties.These monoculture systems are losing carbon to the atmosphere. The carbon in the soil is what holds the soil together and holds the moisture in. Any carbon we are releasing into Co2 warms the planet and makes the situation worse. A greater range of tougher more resilient cereal crops is going to be essential for our food supplies going into a climate change future. By creating demand for such a variety of grains, Matthews Cotswold Flour is helping our local farmers to move to more sustainable practices.”
Bertie added: “We know that we are only at the start of our sustainability journey but by acknowledging that soil health is fundamental to our business and making its preservation part of our core strategy we believe we have already made huge strides in the protection of our soil for future generations.”