Impact Blog Series Volume 4: What Is Sustainable Beef Farming?
There are a few tanned faces walking around Rare Restaurants HQ this week, which can only mean one thing… The annual Argentina trip has been and gone, bringing with it a wave of new energy and excitement, having explored the farms that supply our restaurants with the best quality steak. In this post we explore the potential for sustainable farming through regenerative and holistic land management.
What is sustainable farming? Sustainable agriculture means operating with the environmental, social, and economic impacts taken into consideration, meeting food needs without compromising the ability for current or future generations to meet their needs. The purpose of the Argentina trip is to connect with our farmers and understand how they are operating within this capacity. The team visited two farms that supply us with our much-loved Aberdeen Angus Argentinian steak: Santa Maria del Recuerdo in Saladillo and Santa Elena in Rojas, both situated in the famous La Pampas region.
Santa Maria del Recuerdo
Santa Maria is a family-owned, natural grasslands farm. Francesco and his brothers became administrators in 2016 with the intention of disrupting the traditional farming methods to become economically efficient, socially responsible, and environmentally sustainable. To achieve this, they have adopted new processes, which consider genetics, nutrition and animal welfare.
They have taken the genetic information of their cattle and studied the soil profile of their 4,000-hectare farm to understand which parts of the farm are best suited for the various aspects of farming. The type of grass that cattle graze on during the fattening stage is important for the marbling and quality of the meat, however, seasonal variations affect the quality and type of grass that is available throughout the year. Rye grass is crucial for achieving good marbling but is of low quality during the winter months, and so it is complemented with corn that the farm grows itself. Argentinian law prevents the use of any imported feeds supplements; therefore, the farm must take this into account when managing the land
Santa Maria operates holistic land management practices, where cattle spend five days grazing in each area of the farm before being moved on to the next. After the grasslands have been grazed on, they need a minimum of 30 days to recover before livestock can be reintroduced, which gives the native grasses time to recover and regrow. Ranchers are also exploring the options for planting more grasses and legumes, to improve the soil and sequester more carbon. Alfalfa, soy and corn are particularly good for this, while introducing cover crops, such as clover, can also aid the digestion of the cattle, which plays a role in reducing the methane emissions from cows themselves.
Santa Elena - Rojas
Unlike at Santa Maria, Juan and his team at Santa Elena use the land predominantly for agriculture rather than livestock grazing simply because the quality of the soil is so good, particularly compared to areas around it, and so is mainly used to grow crops for supplementing feed on cattle farms. They also operate a rotation system across the farm by separating out areas based on the quality of the soil. This also enables those areas of the farm that have a lower soil quality to be improved through the planting of species, such as alfalfa, which “fixes” nitrogen into the soil to boost the fertility of the soil, reducing the need to use synthetic or chemical fertilisers.
Despite this farm being over 6,000 hectares in size, very few cattle are reared on site. They are kept on the lowland areas where the soil is of lower quality and not good enough to grow crops. For those they do rear, keeping stress levels to a minimum is extremely important towards the end of their life. Cattle are transferred to a special area of the farm where they are given the freedom to make their own decisions about what needs they want to fulfil such as eating, drinking, sheltering, or ruminating. Alongside being a key indicator of ethical rearing practices, high animal welfare standards can also help to mitigate environmental pressures along the supply chain. Once at the slaughterhouse, any meat that shows signs of bruising is discarded as low quality and is a core contributor to food waste.
At Rare Restaurants we know that sustainable livestock farming can be a part of the climate change solution and so place it at the heart of our business. The annual Argentina trip helps to keep our sustainability efforts and the origins of our brands fresh in our teams’ mind, while bringing us closer to our farmers and understanding their practices. We take great care to ensure sustainable methods in all aspects of the supply chain, from farm to our restaurant tables.