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Farmer Highly Commended for Marketing Award

by 5m Editor
26 May 2009, at 9:00am

UK - West Country broiler farmer, Robert Lanning, has been highly commended in the Poultry Producer of the Year Award in recognition of his high welfare standards, passionate advocacy and welcoming attitude.

West Country poultry farmer Robert Lanning has been 'Highly Commended' in the Poultry Producer of the Year Award, at the Pig and Poultry Marketing Awards in London, reports Smallholder.

Mr Lanning, who was nominated for the award by poultry processor 2 Sisters Willand, owns Devonshire Poultry near Honiton in Devon. At just 38 years old he is a respected pioneer and ambassador for Freedom Food poultry production, a system that is defined and audited by the RSPCA.

Because of his high standards, passionate advocacy and welcoming attitude, Mr Lanning's Freedom Food farms have become national showcases for the system. They are visited by all sorts of people wanting to know more, from politicians to welfare campaigners, butchers to celebrity chefs.

"Robert has gone the extra mile with his open door policy," said the Pig and Poultry Marketing judges panel, "embracing the media at many levels. He has captured a niche in the market and is turning it into a mainstream business. We were impressed with his pioneering systems and alliances with research bodies to continually move forward with his business model. He has achieved a considerable level of status in the industry at such a young age."

It was his visit to Mr Lanning's farm last year that convinced Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall that there was an acceptable way of rearing chicken indoors. Jamie Oliver visited with Robert in autumn 2007 and went on to advocate Freedom Food as the affordable higher welfare choice for consumers.

Freedom Food production now represents around 50 per cent of Mr Lanning's total turnover but he is passionate about the system and aspires to becoming a 100 per cent Freedom Food producer when consumer demand and profitability allow, according to Smallholder.

"As a farmer I've enjoyed the challenge of developing an alternative way to rear chicken. That's not to say that the existing systems don't offer a fantastic product at a great price, because they do," says Mr Lanning, who travelled to London with wife, Jacqui, to collect his award. "But for me, Freedom Food was about challenging how we do things with a system that encourages the natural behaviour of the bird but at a price that is still affordable for most consumers. I think we've achieved that and I feel greatly honoured to have our efforts recognised in this way from within the industry."

Mr Lanning's farming career started when he was just a boy selling eggs from three bantams. His company, Devonshire Poultry, was established 10 years ago and rears chicken for 2 Sisters Willand. This year as 2 Sisters' requirements have grown, Devonshire Poultry has expanded to running six farms with approximately 560,000 birds – standard and Freedom Food – 'on the ground' at any one time, making it the largest privately owned poultry producer in the West Country.

On three of his farms, Mr Lanning has converted existing poultry sheds for Freedom Food production, installing windows, perching and environmental enhancements. Two new Freedom Food sheds were erected in 2007 and 2008 and in these, he has pioneered a new three-level perching system to give the birds additional dimensions to encourage natural behaviour. He experiments with different pecking objects such as maize cobs to see which stimulate the birds best, and he is also collaborating with Bristol University to investigate ways of tracking how, when and why chicken move around their environment.

"Robert has become a true ambassador for indoor reared Freedom Food chicken," said Andrew Maunder of 2 Sisters Willand. "His farms are a showcase for the system and we're proud to call him one of our producers. It's gratifying to see him receive this award."

The Freedom Food standard is defined and audited by the RSPCA. It is the only UK farm assurance scheme dedicated to improving farm animal welfare.

According to Smallholder, the Pig and Poultry Marketing Awards seek out individuals and companies operating in the UK food chain offering positive, innovative solutions that help make the industry more sustainable, competitive and profitable. The winners are all exceptional individuals and companies that help drive the industry forward.