2020 winners follow-up: Andrew Hodgson, Beef Innovator of the Year

Farming on the Isle of Wight has always been a mix of challenges and opportunities but 2020 British Farming Award Beef Innovator of the Year winner, Andrew Hodgson, explains how events of the past year have impacted on his business. Angela Calvert finds out more.

Andrew Hodgson’s family have farmed on the Isle of Wight since 1986, running a mixed farming enterprise across 295 hectares (730 acres) comprising of a 1,500-head outdoor lambing flock, a beef finishing unit and arable cropping.

It is very much a family enterprise of which diversification is a key part. Andrew’s eldest son, Jack, works on the farm and is constantly looking to add further innovation, his wife, Claudia, manages the holiday cottages, and younger son, Sam, a professional mountain biker, runs the Isle of Wight Mountain Bike Centre from the farm.

In 2019, in a move to become a price maker not a price taker, Andrew set up an on-farm butchery and dry-aging facility as a way of maximising income from home-produced stock and began trading as the Isle of Wight Meat Company.

He says: “We were never going to be able to complete with commodity produced meat.

“Our location already provided us with a unique selling point, but I wanted to add as much extra value as possible.

“We looked around for what innovation was available and decided on dry-aging. Ours was the first bespoke plant to be set up. There are others but they have been adaptations of existing plants.”

The forequarters of beef are hung for two weeks before being broken down. Hindquarters are hung for a minimum of 28 days before being butchered while the premium cuts such as rib, loin and rump go into a separate dry-aging room which has humidity control and a salt wall, for a minimum of 40 days and sometimes up to 100 days.

This intensifies the flavour and changes the nature of the fat. The company now supplies butchers and farm shops on the Isle of Wight and meat boxes are also delivered or available by click and collect, but 70 per cent of trade is the mainland.

“The dry-aging sets our meat apart, but it does make it expensive, so we are looking to supply the top end of the market.


“Our customers are those who are really interested in good food and prepared to pay a premium. They are mainly based on the south coast from Brighton to Poole and up the M4 corridor towards London with boxes delivered by courier.

“Before Covid-19, 70 per cent of our business was foodservice and we were starting to sell into more restaurants. Overnight everything changed and we had to switch to 100 per cent retail. As we come out of lockdown, we will be switching back to some foodservice aiming for a select number of restaurants but will continue to be mainly retail.

“One of the challenges is that everyone wants the premium cuts which creates an issue with carcase balance. We have recently put a vehicle on the road to sell food which will help with this, but its main purpose is local advertising and raising the profile of the business, so people will see this and then order from the website.”


Andrew finishes about 150 heifers and 300 bulls a year with half of these boughtin as weaned suckler calves from local breeders. The remainder are  continentalsired dairy bred calves bought-in at four months old from calf rearers on the island.

“I only buy bulls and heifers and I do not have a breed preference but while not buying show calves I am looking to buy the better quality animals,” says Andrew.

“Higher livestock prices over recent months has increased the cost of buying in stock, but it is nearer to where it needs to be. It is a good thing for the primary producer who has been underfunded for too long and I do not mind as long as I can reflect the cost in the retail price.

“I hope we are going to see a more even distribution of money throughout the primary producer, processor and retailer supply chain in future.”

Bulls are all finished on an intensive cereal-based system and heifers on an 18-month system and are outwintered in feed lots where they are fed cereal.

Andrew says: “We are on thin soils and are not able to finish cattle off grass, but I also believe they need to be fed some cereal to get the marbling in the meat.

“The aim is to turn cattle over quickly so bulls are slaughtered at 14-15 months old when there is a good meat to bone ratio at 360-380kg deadweight, with heifers at 18-20 months and around 20kg less. Bulls do not get fat so I am happy to let them grow to their full potential.”

With no abattoir on the island livestock has to travel to the mainland to be slaughtered at Farnborough.

Andrew says: “The island’s abattoir closed about the same time as we moved here and there has been talk of a new one ever since. I did feasibility study into building one and concluded that there needed to be more of a market for island stock which is what I am now trying to create.

“I do believe in the long-term this could happen, but it would require some form of grant funding, either from Government or a major landowner to build it, but operationally could probably be financially viable.

“It would not necessarily be cheaper than sending stock to the mainland for slaughter, and there is not a welfare issue with taking them there, but it would reduce food miles and add to the story of regionally produced food.”


The business is currently self-sufficient in beef but as it expands Andrew expects to buy in additional stock from a handful of selected farms on the island.

Likewise, lamb is provided by the farm’s 1,500- head Cheviot Mule flock which are put to Charolais rams and lamb outdoors in April. Additional lambs are sourced locally at certain times of year.

During the last year, a small piggery has also been set up on-farm, with weaners bought-in and finished to provide pork for the meat company.

Reflecting on the last year Andrew admits he was despondent in January 2020.

“Beef farmers were being blamed for wrecking the environment and could do nothing right. But that has changed in the last 12 months with a much more  positive profile of farming emerging and I hope as an industry we do not blow it.

“Initially, the Isle of Wight had one of the lowest incidences of Covid-19 – but that soon changed as people began to flock here, many to stay in their second homes located on the island.

“We are lucky in as much that where we farm is quite remote, as many farms are, but we had to shut our holiday cottages.

“It has been difficult financially – it would have been simpler to shut the meat business, but we decided to fight and fund it in the short-term.

“And I do think, in the medium-term, there will be benefits to come out of Covid-19, it has really made people focus on their businesses. The general public is generally an urbanised population which does not worry about food security, but they seem to have realised the value of regionally produced quality food.

“Winning the British Farming Awards really raised the profile of our business and I am amazed how many people have seen it through social media and been in
touch with us.

“It has been a tough time for the whole industry as well as our business. We can sometimes feel a bit isolated here and it was a great morale booster for the staff
to get national recognition for what we are doing here on the Isle of Wight and gave them reassurance that we are on the right track.”

A word from the sponsor

ABP is one of the UK’s leading consumer food producers. We are proud to work with over 12,000 farmers to produce high quality beef and lamb products for leading retailers and restaurants. For more than 60 years we have a track record as leader when it comes to innovation in the red meat sector particularly when it comes to sustainable practices. These include the introduction of ABP’s Blade Farming model to the opening of the world’s first certified beef processing site in the UK to achieve carbon neutrality at Ellesmere, Shropshire.

Today, we are committed to continuing with that tradition and our innovative practices have extended to the wider supply chain and has seen us partner with Harper Adams and other industry experts as we aim to reduce methane emissions in beef production, and in the process cement Britain as a global leader in the production of sustainable beef.

Results from research carried out to-date have shown that it is possible  to reduce methane emissions from cattle by up to 40 per cent against ABP’s average, which has been achieved through a data driven selective breeding programme.

In addition to the environmental benefits, findings have also shown that farmers can improve their economic returns by up to £100 per head – demonstrating that economic and environmental sustainability can travel hand-in-hand.

We have been mindful to ensure that all of our research is applicable to a typical farm so that real and tangible progress can be made to the environmental performance of UK beef in a global marketplace, while also satisfying changing consumer desires for more sustainable diets. As we continue to grow and evolve, so does our support for British farmers.