Thursday, 18 June 2015

A vision for the future of the beef and lamb sector

Stuart Roberts took over from John Cross as chairman of AHDB Beef and Lamb on April 1. Last month, Stuart spoke to Sheep Farmer about his aspirations for the sector. This blog is adapted from that interview. 

I do not need to point out that most of my background is firmly in the arable and beef sectors. That is why it is so important to work closely with levy payers. I want to be held to account.

In terms of levy investment priorities, research and development (R&D) and knowledge transfer (KT) are up there. These should not be seen as separate things. We do some fantastic work, but if we do not do even better work on the knowledge transfer element, our competitors overseas will pinch what we have done on R&D and use it to benefit their industry. If we are not communicating the messages effectively, we might as well not do the R&D in the first place.

The second important area is market intelligence (MI). There should be nowhere else in the industry that anyone is going to for better intelligence on the sheep or beef markets. Lots of people can collect data. The important part is how you then analyse that, interpret it and add intelligence to it.

Then there is market access work, which we cannot underplay. I would love to be able to say, at the end of my term, that we have displaced other countries’ lamb in China, for instance. Once we get market access, it is relatively easy, in my opinion, to exploit these opportunities. We have the quality product that can beat competing countries hands down. We need to keep working on that market access though because it will not be easy or quick.

On another note, the myths put out about our proteins are incredible. People talk about the carbon footprint of the animals all the time. The reality is what we are doing is feeding a rumen. This biological miracle, which no human has yet developed, is something we need to shout more about. Sheep and cattle are the most fantastically efficient animals at turning cellulose into a high-quality protein digestible by humans. We cannot do enough work in this area to promote this story about our English production systems.

I believe that we need to be better at showing the value for money we are giving and that we are being efficient. We cannot expect others to do it if we are not doing it ourselves. We should be proud of the things we do. Increasing efficiency is not something that is going to happen overnight, but if we are not positive about the industry, how can we expect anyone else to be?

What we are ultimately about is providing farmers with the tools that allow them to make the most of the opportunities available to them. We can learn from others and work more closely with organisations like the NSA, vet practices, breed societies and others in the supply chain to get those key messages out there to help deliver maximum returns for levy payers.

For an overview of Stuart’s views on the industry and AHDB Beef and Lamb’s place in it, watch our video here.