Know-how is not enough, wanting is not sufficient. We need to get things done. Alberto Negri successfully and skilfully applied this concept to the company that he has been running with his father Antonio for three generations. Bordona Farm is a family-run farm that has been growing cereal crops and breeding Limousin beef cattle for over 40 years, and more recently directly selling its products. The farm is situated on the fertile Po plain, on the border of the Lombardy provinces of Milan, Lodi and Pavia, in one of the best-suited areas for growing prestigious superfine rice such as Carnaroli and Arborio.
Over the years, Bordona Farm has become a concrete example of a valid short meat chain. The Negri family has shown how respect for natural processes and animal wellbeing are the essential key to producing high-quality meat. This process is concretely carried out thanks to inspections focused on the selection and nutrition of animals, totally forgoing any enforced or sophisticated systems.
Such secrets have allowed Bordona Farm to convert to organic farming and breeding.
Alberto, how did Bordona Farm originate?
It was the result of a cycle that ended. My great-grandfathers were butchers who ran a business in Milan. My grandfather, who began to help in the shop, was in charge of finding cattle and he became very interested in selling animals, a trade that he then pursued throughout the post-war period. He managed to save a fair amount of money and then bought Bordona farm, where we live and work today.
Then you switched from milk production to organic farming.
In the 1980s, my grandfather and my father built the first cattlesheds for dairy cows. At that time, milk quotas had just been introduced. Luckily, they diversified in time and decided to introduce cow and calf production. We started with crossbreeds, immediately with pure Limousin bulls, due to their simple birth and the quality of their meat.
You, instead, chose a different approach to breeding.
I joined the farm in the mid-1990s, and immediately after concluding my agricultural studies I became very interested in animals and genetic improvement. I embarked on a path of purity: after just a few years, I registered our cattleshed with the herd book and decided to take genetics to a good level, also making comparisons with other European farms.
How far does your choice of organic farming go back?
In the late 1990s, we were connected with the ecological oasis owned by Plasmon, for which we produced rice. Then, the European Union imposed a greater commitment to integrated agriculture, a reduction in chemical fertilisers and plant protection products, which then led to a shift to organic farming. After two years of conversion, we became an organic farm in the year 2000, which was a difficult choice at the beginning but now gives us great satisfaction.
And this is what led to your short meat chain.
We changed the configuration of our cattleshed to one suited to animal breeding. The organic market began to demand meat. The facilities needed to be redesigned and we focused on a project that included direct sales. This decision proved to be far-sighted: in those years, when farm shops existed, we met consumers' demands to shop directly at the farm and meet the farmer personally. The short meat chain is an opportunity for a producer, who can sell a top-quality product, whereas consumers have a chance to buy a local product that is safe and recognisable.
Then there is the question of quality versus quantity.
Over the last 30-40 years, breeders have practised selection, focusing on significant muscular performance and skeletal development. Piemontese, Limousin and Charolaise bulls are like athletes: they have no fat. This has allowed us to have very young cattle, which produce meat at a very early age without any fat on them. Therefore, when cooked by the fast cooking method, such as grilling, the collagen in the meat does not melt, making the meat harder and the experience is compromised. I am facing this problem in the short meat chain and looking for genetic lines that produce more fat.
And what about the mass retail sector?
In 2013, after opening our farm shop, we noticed that direct sales were not enough to complete such an ambitious project. Some enthusiasts come to our farm but consumers are still tied to the mass retail economy. Attracting new customers was always complicated and we had to sell products that were competitive in terms of quality, since we could not compete with the mass retail sector in terms of quantity.
So you embraced online sales.
We liked the idea but it wasn't easy to set up selling meat, a fresh and perishable product. Thanks to our current and well-established collaboration with Cortilia, we can complete a sales process direct to consumers who are unlikely to come to our farm. Mainly from Milan and Brianza.
What is the potential of the short meat chain?
It is an opportunity for a farmer or breeder to sell a top-quality product, whereas consumers have a chance to buy a local product that is safe and recognisable.
How much is really 'zero kilometre' ?
The short supply chain implies making a local and seasonal product available to consumers, but this cannot be applied to meat, as there is no seasonal period. it is a huge advantage to be able to offer our products and an opportunity to come and see who we are, what we do and how we do it. This allows us to avoid ending up in the mass retail trade and having our products mixed with others, which makes meat no longer recognisable and identifiable. I like telling my story and I do it willingly because I want people to understand what they are going to eat.
What projects do you have for the future?
I would like to further improve the ability of my cattle to produce fat by perhaps including a breed that fascinates me such as Angus. We already partly have this breed at our farm thanks to the use of polled (derived from Angus, ndr) genetic lines that allow us to avoid dehorning, an invasive practice that causes suffering in animals. We live in an area where consumers look for lean meat. That's why it is difficult to find Angus when you go a butcher's shop. It is very fatty meat and does not look good on the meat counter. But the question is: What gives meat its flavour? The answer is fat. We are trying to meet this demand with this polled genetic line, which we have adopted for the wellbeing of our cattle. We don't want bulls at our farm because Limousin cattle are gregarious animals that due to supremacy and dominance tend to challenge each other and the risks increase for breeders and animals alike.
Alberto, what’s your favourite meat dish?
I must admit: I love American-style meat, whereas my father appreciates poor cuts such as tripe, cheek and oxtail. I adore grilled meat so I choose a fine Florentine T-bone steak from an animal that is not young and has undergone a significant period of ageing, one that only connoisseurs buy.