Thursday, 2 October 2014

French trip has valuable lessons for upland producers

Last week, a group of 12 English beef and sheep producers, led by EBLEX northern regional managers Steve Dunkley and David Hall, embarked on a study tour to France to find out more about export opportunities, particularly for our lamb.

The group, who were primarily from the upland areas of the North East and North West, including members of the NFU livestock boards in those regions, spent two days gaining an insight into the French supply chain on an RDPE-funded visit.

During the trip, they visited butchers and supermarkets who are proudly stocking UK product and visited Rungis, one of the largest wholesale markets in the world, which boasts multiple halls of carcase meat and offal, as well as pavilions of beautifully-presented fruits, vegetables, dairy products and fish. They also visited livestock farms to gain an insight into the differences between production systems in the two countries, as well as finding out more of the work done by EBLEX's French office to create demand for our products across the Channel. There are photographs from the study tour on our Facebook page.

It’s a point that we return to time and time again, but the importance of the French market to our sheep industry can’t be underestimated. In 2013, France was the destination for over half of our lamb exports and a staggering one in every five lambs produced in the UK ends up on a French dinner plate. In turn, the UK supplies 42 per cent of imported lamb into France.

For the upland producers who took part in this visit, the French market is particularly crucial, as the lighter lambs that are produced on our uplands tend to be better suited to the export market than they are to domestic consumption. Therefore strong demand for our product in our biggest export market is essential to underpin healthy returns for this group of farmers.

With French self-sufficiency in lamb dropping sharply from 45 per cent in 2012 to 36 per cent in 2013, primarily due to feed prices and production costs, you could be forgiven for thinking that our high-quality, readily-available lamb would sell like hot cakes on this market, without the need for additional promotion. However, as our French office manager Rémi Fourrier and his team will attest, selling UK exports to a French population who are generally perceived to have a strong loyalty to home-grown products isn't without its challenges.

Add to that the difficult economic situation in France, which is struggling to recover from the recession, and a general decline in lamb consumption among younger people, it’s clear to see how hard a job this is. Plus the strengthening of Sterling against the Euro has done no favours for the trade in this region.

With much of the work that goes on in France and our other export markets being invisible to the majority of our English levy payers for obvious reasons, a study tour such as this is a good opportunity to give influential farmers an insight into how their levy is spent.

Certainly the comments from those taking part in the trip indicate that it opened their eyes to the breadth of activity EBLEX carries out, as well as focusing their minds on producing the right product for the French market. Our hope is that those who took part in the tour will pass these learnings on to family and friends, as a testimony from a fellow farmer is the most effective communication tool we have at our disposal.

See what the upland farmers had to say about their study tour in the following video.