Thursday, 6 February 2014

Storms and floods don’t dampen enthusiasm for open meetings

I’m sure there are many better things beef and sheep farmers can think of doing on a wet, stormy night in Somerset than attending an EBLEX open meeting. With so much flooding in the region, there is plenty to contend with already so it was fantastic that so many made it to our event in Sedgemoor on Tuesday.

This was the middle one of three open meetings we held in the southern region between January 31 and February 5 and all were well attended.  The first event was held in Ashford Market in Kent and drew about 80 people keen to learn more about what we did. The second at Sedgemoor auction market, attracted around the same number, who braved appalling weather to come along, find out more and ask questions of EBLEX staff. Similarly, the last one in Launceston, had good attendance despite news reports warning people not to travel west of Exeter!
 
EBLEX Senior Southern Regional Manager Dr Phil Hadley addressing the audience at the open meeting in Sedgemoor
 
So why hold these meetings, which followed a similar series in the northern region before Christmas? It’s not that we don’t meet producers every day in some form or another and are able to talk about what we do. However, these were dedicated sessions to really showcase some of our work and explain how it helps us move towards achieving a more sustainable and profitable industry by adding value wherever we can. It is not about blowing our own trumpet, but about ensuring we are effectively telling people how we are spending the levy we collect.

The official lines are there to look into it if you want to. In 2012/13, EBLEX levy income was just over £15 million. With this investment from the industry, we provide a range of services, from market information and knowledge transfer, to research and development and marketing at home and globally. Exactly how the activity is split and planned is set out in a corporate plan which is approved by the EBLEX board before going out to wider industry consultation and finally being signed off by Defra as part of the AHDB corporate plan and so on.

That’s all well and good, but our feedback suggests that isn’t always what people want to know. It is essential to know there is a process with good governance, but what are we actually doing with the money and how does it benefit producers and processors on the ground? Communicating this is key and that is why we have hosted these open meetings. It was a chance for producers to come along for free and find out more about what we are doing in the marketing arena, with cuts development, on the export front and gain some insight into the latest market information. There were great beef rolls on offer as well.

It was a good programme for the evenings and seemed to hit the mark, judging from the feedback forms filled out afterwards. Dr Phil Hadley, senior regional manager for the southern region, introduced the evening and gave an overview of the beef and sheep meat export work we do, where the biggest export markets are and where we are targeting next. Joseph Keating, assistant regional manager for the south, looked at latest market trends and forecasts, while Hugh Judd, from the trade marketing team, gave an overview of what we are doing on the marketing front, both working with retailers to promote beef and lamb as well as what we are doing in the consumer arena to encourage purchases.

Finally, trade marketing executive Martin Eccles gave a cutting demonstration, looking at new butchery techniques to make the most of the carcase.

Our take-out was that there was genuine interest in the work and appreciation of the range of activity we have going on. That’s not to say there were not challenges in certain areas and specific questions relating to, for instance, imports from New Zealand. This type of forum gave levy payers the chance to quiz the experts directly in an open forum.

So it is likely we will repeat the exercise in the future. If you have something you want to ask us though, please go to either the levy payer website or the trade website to see if the answers you want are there. If not, or if you just want to give us some feedback, use the contacts page to find the right person to direct your queries at and we will do our best to answer them. You don’t have to wait for the next meeting.