Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Opportunities and challenges for British red meat highlighted at AHDB Export Conference

Jonathan Eckley, Senior Red Meat Exports Manager, looks at the opportunities and challenges for British meat in the global marketplace that were discussed at the AHDB Meat Export conference.

The strong performance of British meat exports was highlighted at the 13th Meat Export Conference which took place at the Warwick Hilton on 29 June. Minister for Food and Farming, George Eustice, addressed the 120-strong audience with a particular focus on Brexit and responded to questions from the participants. Among the speakers, Celio Cella, a Shanghai-based meat importer discussed the Chinese market for premium, branded meats and Pr. Alan Matthews of Trinity College Dublin, a renowned expert on food trade, reviewed the Brexit situation.

HMRC data, discussed at the conference, indicates that for the first five months of 2017, UK sheep meat exports have been up and increased by 18% on the year to 34,000 tonnes. Although exports to markets outside the EU more than doubled on the year, it’s worth noting that they only accounted for around 7% of total exports. Sheep meat offal shipments in the five month period also show growth, driven by a 62% increase in shipments to destinations outside of the EU.



The latest in AHDB’s series of Horizon reports, ‘The WTO and its Implications for UK Agriculture’ was also launched at the conference. Previous Horizon publications have examined the trading relationship the UK may have with the EU, post-Brexit. What many have not considered is that, regardless of whether a trade agreement is in place with the EU, the UK will need to abide by World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules affecting agricultural and trade policy when it exits the EU. This is explored in the latest report.

Brexit presents some certainties, as co-phrased by Michel Barnier, by the end of March 2019, the UK will become de facto a Third Country outside of Europe. This has major implications for the UK Beef and Lamb sector. The export trade will also be influenced by changes in import conditions and tariffs with Third Countries. Shipment certificates, Export Health Certificates and certificates of origin will accompany each consignment, however small it may be. There will be border controls of documentation and some physical inspections. This certainly provides some challenges in terms of being prepared for this new situation.



Although Brexit presents our sector with many challenges, it may also provide an opportunity to develop regulatory and policy measures that fit the UK’s unique needs which play to our strengths. The horizon reports provide an excellent reference for the many issues surrounding Brexit.


The meat export conference offered a unique forum where the complex issues and prospects related to exports were presented and discussed. It is also an important event where processors, traders and stakeholders from trade associations and government bodies can meet. It has become an important date in the industry’s calendar and will only become more important in the lead up to Brexit.

Friday, 14 July 2017

How can social media boost your business? Part 2

In this second blog from the AHDB social media team, we look at how social media can help to develop your farm business. Kate Nolan-Burgess blogs about the three key ways in which social media can improve your business.

We’ve already looked at how AHDB is using social media to communicate to our levy payers, but what can it do for YOUR business? The farming industry is often seen as ‘behind the times’ but that is not the case. Having a presence on platforms like Facebook and Twitter could help you to find out key information, network, get closer to your customer base and develop your farm business overall. Here are the three key areas social media can help your business improve on:

Consumer engagement
Do you feel far removed from the end-consumer? Would you like to understand more about how they use and what they want out of your beef & sheep produce?

Producers rarely get the chance to communicate directly with those who buy their products; social media can be used as a tool to cut out the middleman, allow you to hear directly from your customers and nurture those relationships. As we are now a population of online buyers, talking to your customers online has become increasingly important – it could help you gain a better understanding of what your customers want, inform consumers on where your produce comes from, promote your products and stay ahead of the competition.
   


Networking
Do you like a good debate? 14 per cent of farmers use social media to tackle rural isolation by connecting with fellow agricultural workers. Social media is becoming THE place for farmers to share their knowledge and expertise. There are a lot of groups such as @AgriChatUK and @sheep_farmers that help to connect those in the agriculture industry and create interesting conversations. Networking is also a great way to improve direct contact with influential people who could help grow your business.


        
Industry influence
Social media is a powerful tool, which can help bring about change and tackle issues. For example, last autumn social media played a massive role in AHDB Beef & Lamb’s #miniroast campaign reaching an estimate of 405,842 of social media users and contributing to the added £1.3 million in mini roast sales!

If you’re not sure about signing up to social media, you should take a look at how others in the industry are using it to their benefit, whether it’s your suppliers, competitors or producers. In our next blog, we’ll be starting our series of ‘how-to’ guides, which are aimed at producers and look at best practice.

Keep an eye on the Beef and Lamb matters blog for a regular update on the latest guides.
In the meantime, we’d like to know how you use social media already and what opportunities it presents for you. Head to Twitter and follow @AHDB_BeefLamb and @The­AHDB to join in with our conversations.

Friday, 30 June 2017

How can social media boost your business?

In a series of social media blogs, Kate Nolan-Burgess, AHDB Social Media Content Executive, looks at how levy payers can benefit by integrating social media into their everyday business. In this first blog, Kate explains how AHDB uses social media to keep levy payers up to date.

“It's so important that British farmers and growers make the absolute most of the opportunities that social media presents to promote themselves and the wider industry!” – NFU Online



With more than three billion internet users – of which more than two billion have active social accounts – social media has become a powerful marketing tool, offering businesses valuable data  about their customers. At AHDB, social media is used by all of our teams and is a key tool to get our work recognised by a large audience.
So before we give you tips on improving your social media presence, let’s look at how we use social media and why.

We use our @AHDB_BeefLamb Twitter account to help us do three key things:

Connect with our audience –Twitter is a quick way to get information out in bitesize chunks. But to make sure it’s the right information, we keep an eye on how well our followers interact with the content we post – do they ‘like’ it? Are there conversations happening around it? This helps us understand the specific needs of our followers in order to provide content they truly want to see and read about.

Reach new audiences locally and globally   Social media makes it easy to connect with current customers and to seek out new audiences anywhere in the world. We’ve discovered experts through social media who can help us share information on their specialism, who we may not have found without social media platforms.

Improve customer service –  Social media functions in real time, so it gives us instant access to feedback and comments from our followers. They no longer need to go through lengthy processes to get in touch with us – we’re just one click away.

On a day to day basis the AHDB social media team will tweet and post content taken from across the AHDB accounts but the key to the success is the analysis. We make sure we look at engagement levels to check what content is performing well and not so well. This then influences our planning, so we’re always keeping an eye out for industry events and consumer campaigns that will help us promote AHDB as an organisation. But as well as having planned content, we must make sure we are reactive. We aim to get back to enquiries as soon as we can and respond to content that will ultimately help our producers in their farm businesses.


Why should YOUR business have a social media presence?


Farming is an industry which can be seen as ‘old-fashioned’ and ‘left behind’, when it comes to aspects such as social media, but in actual fact it couldn’t be further from the truth – farmers embrace technology, with 53% using social media on a regular basis.


In our next blog we look at how using social media platforms can help increase your customer engagement and make you an industry influencer. In the meantime though, we’d like to know how you use social media currently and what opportunities it presents for you? Have your say and tweet us @AHDB_BeefLamb to join in the conversation.

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

How the Quality Standard Mark is helping the red meat industry’s image

Karl Pendlebury, Quality Manager at AHDB, blogs about the Quality Standard Mark (QSM) scheme and the impact it has on the red meat supply chain.

My role as Quality Manager at AHDB involves managing the QSM scheme and ensuring the red meat supply chain has access to information about maintaining quality meat. I aim to help motivate producers to supply products that are more consistent and maintain consumer confidence in domestically produced red meat. A recent YouGov survey discovered that 51 per cent of people believe quality meat is worth paying more for, while 61 per cent will pay more for quality, so it is our role as advocates of the red meat industry to ensure that our meat produced in the UK ensures a quality end product that is in demand.

QSM is an assurance scheme that is a mark of quality for the consumer and is underpinned by schemes covering animal welfare, food safety, hygiene and environmental protection. It also allows information on where the animal is born, raised and slaughtered, ensuring complete provenance. It is the only assurance scheme that really looks at the science behind meat-eating quality, with all meat produced under the mark chosen according to a strict selection process to ensure the product is consistent. QSM beef and lamb is produced to high standards and consumers can be confident that the supply chain is fully assured and independently inspected at every stage.

AHDB’s 2017–2020 strategy has set an ambitious target – we are aiming to increase beef and sheep carcases meeting supplier specifications by two per cent year on year for the next three years. We will do this through research into new technology and provide a clear understanding of carcase classification, based on quality rather than yield. Our technical team is focussing on projects such as Selection Academy, Strategic Farms and HoloLens technology. The activities are ultimately aiming to inform beef and lamb producers on how they can meet carcase specification better.





The QSM scheme benefits producers by ensuring that meat reaches supplier specifications, which ultimately will achieve a better price and create a more profitable and consistent red meat supply from the UK.

We recently appointed chef Chris Wheeler as UK ambassador for the scheme. Chris has featured on BBC 2’s Great British Menu and regularly appears on national radio. We hope, that with Chris’ help we can spread the positive message of QSM beef and lamb to both the supply chain and consumers alike.The scheme is free to join and is open to a range of businesses including abattoirs, cutting plants, wholesalers, meat processors, catering butchers, foodservice outlets, approved distributors and retailers, both independent and multiple.




Joining the scheme ensures that businesses are following an industry standard and can guarantee their customers beef and lamb of a consistent quality. There is a dedicated team on hand to help with all enquiries and to help companies understand more about how they can promote the quality of their produce.

For more information about the scheme and to keep up to date with QSM activity visit http://www.qsmbeefandlamb.co.uk/quality-standard-mark or contact the scheme helpline on 0845 4918787.

Thursday, 1 June 2017

Last leg of American journey - Becky Willson's Nuffield Scholar trip

Nuffield scholar Becky Willson is travelling around the world to visit countries to find out more about emissions reductions projects for farmers. In the last of a three-part series of blogs, she visits Nebraska and California to look at the issue of soil health.


The third part of my journey saw me travel to Nebraska to talk predominantly about soil health and building resilience within the farming system. Nebraska is a very dry state with an annual rainfall of 24 – 28 inches. I met a variety of farmers who were using different management options (including rotational grazing, cover crops, reduced tillage and intercropping), but they all had the same three goals in mind:

  •          To enhance water cycle and nutrient cycle efficiency
  •          To improve soil organic matter content (and alongside it soil health)
  •          To enhance long and short-term soil resilience

The farmers in Nebraska also work with state climatologists to develop tools that include weather forecasting to help them with farm management decisions. They try to use historical climate data to predict what may happen in the season. I found it interesting when talking to these farmers – they had come to the realisation that the most limiting factor to their yields (and ultimately profit) after water was carbon and not nitrogen, which they could go and buy.


The final stop was California, the biggest agricultural economy in the world, where they are spearheading a project called ‘Healthy Soils’, which uses money from a carbon tax to fund soil carbon projects. The state was being used as a ‘test bed’ to try the idea, which could then be rolled out nationally. I talked to the people responsible for the project and the farmers who were involved – there was an air of excitement, which was slightly tempered by the new administration and whether the project would still happen. 


In summary, it was a fascinating trip, which gave me an opportunity to visit a large range of inspirational people and projects, but also provided me with more questions as to how we can implement some of America’s good practices here in the UK. Integration is a key issue, which we need to focus on, namely what can we integrate within UK agricultural policy that would hit emissions reduction targets without extra paperwork or bureaucracy? There are also problems around what the public will pay for in terms of environmental credentials, and whether we can include carbon in it.

What is clear is that we can all work together on these issues, and by co-ordinating efforts across sectors, industries and countries, there may be an opportunity to achieve real and positive change. 

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Second leg of Nuffield journey - onto Vermont

Nuffield scholar Becky Willson is travelling around the world to visit countries to find out more about emissions reductions projects for farmers. In the second of a three-part series, she visits Vermont and looks at the issue of water management.


The second leg of my journey took me north to Vermont to meet farmers and understand why they were changing their management practices. A big concern for these farmers was water management. Vermont has a growing local food movement, connecting consumers with farmers and its location allows it access to many urban affluent populations including Boston and New York.

The Centre for Sustainable Agriculture in Vermont was running a project looking at farming and climate change and working with farmers using research on-farm to provide farm-level data. I saw a range of projects, including monitoring nutrient levels, sediment and water loss from fields under different tillage and the use of woodchip pads as an out-wintering strategy for livestock farmers. Connecting scientists and farmers makes it possible to see what works before making large investments. It was a great couple of days meeting people who were open to new ideas and proving concepts by looking at farm-based research.




The big issue in Vermont is water quality and there is a real threat that there may be increased regulation to address the issues of run-off, water quality and soil erosion. I met with the Champlain Valley Farmer Coalition, a farmer-led organisation set up to provide leadership and a unified voice for farmers to proactively protect water quality in Lake Champlain. They are a not-for-profit organisation that makes sure farmers’ voices are heard by the general public, policy makers, other farmers and regulators.


Their chair explained: “We are a group of farmers in the Lake Champlain Basin who have taken a leadership role, showing that farm economic resiliency and a clean lake can work together. We are primarily a farmer-based corporation that exists to be a unified voice for farmers who are proactively addressing water quality.”

Following my time in Vermont, I journeyed to Pennsylvania to a conference on Sustainable Agriculture and then flew to Colorado to talk metrics and models with the team that construct America’s annual inventory of greenhouse gases. They are developing tools for farmers that allow them to understand the impact or opportunity of changing management on emissions, and are integrating these into delivery programmes.


My next blog will take me to Nebraska, where I will be looking at soil health and understanding how with their low rainfall affects their farming. 

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

American Adventures – Becky Willson's Nuffield Scholar trip

Nuffield scholar Becky Willson is travelling around the world to visit countries running emissions reductions projects for farmers. In a three-part blog series she gives an insight into what she learnt during a recent trip to the United States.


I was awarded an AHDB-sponsored Nuffield scholarship in 2015 to look at the importance of communicating carbon reduction to the agricultural industry and how to motivate farmers to learn more about how to reduce emissions and achieve business benefits.

The most recent leg of my Nuffield travels took me on a three-week trip to the US to see some of the projects that have been taking place stateside focusing specifically on carbon and greenhouse gas emissions reductions. I arrived the day after President Trump started his travel ban and, despite some trepidation, I was thankfully allowed in to begin a busy schedule of farm visits and meetings.

My trip schedule (as with all good Nuffield visits) spanned the width of the US, and involved meetings with politicians, project holders, researchers, farmers and a few other characters. My aim was to get more of an understanding of what is happening on farm around carbon reduction and look at some of the supported programmes to find out what is motivating farmers to change their management practices.



I quickly learnt my first lesson, which was to check the weather forecast before going to North America in the middle of winter, where the temperature is regularly -10 Degrees Celsius.

My adventure started with a visit to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) in Washington DC to talk policies, programmes and practices. I met a range of different people and it was interesting to hear about the different activities going on through the climate hubs model, which allows farmers to access payments for practices that reduce greenhouse gas emissions or improve soil carbon sequestration. A stand-out benefit of this model is co-ordination. The hubs included the USDA, The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), the Agricultural Research Service, universities, extension providers and others that provide co-ordinated actions, which are adapted to regional conditions and priorities. Bringing everyone around the table ensured that the messaging to famers is consistent and everything is included in the discussion.

Another interesting project I learnt more about is the Useful to Usable project, which for the first time is including social scientists in projects that are able to address the very question of behavioural change. Randy Johnson, who heads up the Agricultural research organisation NIFA’s global climate change work explained: 

It’s got to be a team effort, and include co-production of knowledge, if you do that you are halfway there as you are all invested in the solutions. We can’t deal with the big stuff in isolation, we have got to co-produce and work together.”




It was a fascinating first leg of my journey, and I have gained so much insight into farming practices in the US. Catch the second part of my blog next week, which looks at my time spent in Vermont and understanding their uptake of new technology in farming.