Thursday, 17 August 2017

Content is King – Part 4

In the fourth blog from the AHDB social media team, Kate Nolan-Burgess looks at social media content – it’s all about quality, not quantity.

The last social media blog looked at choosing the right social media channel for your business, so now it’s time to think about the type of content for your social media accounts.

Posts should be engaging and provide content that is relevant to your audience. Social media is free, but you need to think about how much time you are putting into developing content and the value you get from it in terms of engagement and feedback from your audience. Post content that gets retweets, likes, shares and followers.

Here are some top tips:

Twitter

Photos – A picture is worth a thousand words. With the 140 character limit, this is even more relevant. Tweets with images generate 89 per cent more likes and 150 per cent more retweets. Use simple images with clean backgrounds and include relevant text to help tell a quick story

Videos – Received well on Twitter if done correctly. To maximise the impact of your video, keep it short and simple (2 minutes maximum). Short, informative pieces with advice, exclusive behind the scenes information and event videos are usually received well

Links – Provide users with a great way to find out more. When promoting a link remember to keep it short, use relevant hashtags and make the call to action clear






Facebook

Photos – Receive 53 per cent more likes and 104 per cent more comments than the average post

Photo albums – Posts including photo albums receive 180 per cent more engagement than the average post

Questions – Posing questions shows that you have an interest in your followers and motivates them to take action 

Comics, cartoons and memes – Use animations to make your audience laugh. Think about the issues relating to your business to make it relatable




Instagram 

Instagram is a social channel that allows users to capture, edit and share photos, videos and messages with followers.

Behind the scenes – Behind-the-scenes content is a great idea for your business. Instagram posts humanise the business, showing the faces behind the brand. You can share pictures of employees and workplace tours to showcase where and how your products are made 

Product features – Your audience is interested in what you are offering, make sure to share posts showing your product. Be cautious about posting too much promotional content, one or two posts per week should be enough

Quotes and text-based content – Quotes are a great way to boost engagement quickly and provide inspiration to your audience. You could also share positive reviews or feedback from customers, event information or announcements and useful information such as recipes, product-related tips, or ‘how to’ videos

The statistics show that  images make posts more interesting and are more likely to gain your target audiences’ attention. Try including visuals with every post and watch your engagement skyrocket.




For more informantion follow @TheAHDB and @AHDB_BeefLamb to receive regular updates on our activities.

Thursday, 3 August 2017

How can social media boost your business? Part 3

In this third blog from the AHDB social media team, Kate Nolan-Burgess introduces the key social media channels that could improve your farm business.

In the last instalment of our social media series, we looked at how social media can help your business. But where do you start? The first step to building a social media empire is picking a network to focus on – different networks attract different audiences and with more than 200 to choose from, the prospect of choosing one that fits your needs may seem a little daunting. But don’t worry, we have narrowed it down to the 3 major players for you:

  •  Facebook

With an estimated 1 billion people using the site each month and up to 645 million local business page views per week, Facebook has proved that its popularity among users is here to stay. Creating a business page could give you access to customers using the platform, but remember that interesting and engaging content needs to be posted regularly. This platform does need a considerable amount of human and financial resource in the form of advertising to make sure you’re reaching the right audience.


  •         Twitter

Twitter has an estimated 215 million active users and is designed not only for friends and family but for like-minded individuals to communicate on interesting topics. It has proven to be a platform of breaking news and a great place to connect with your customers, being able to identify them using the handy hashtag feature. The 140 character count may sound a bit limiting, but there is a certain art to it. Once you mastered it, you can reap the rewards of quick communication with your target audience.
·      
  •       Instagram

With between 130 and 150 million users, Instagram is the home of photos and is a great way to add the ‘human’ element to your business. You can share pictures of products, staff and developments within your business. This free photo-sharing mobile app is mainly used by females between the ages of 18-35 (70% of users), so don’t sign your business up if you are not going to use your smart phone and your target audience aren’t millennials!


Time is money
You only have so much time in a day. Social media may be free but it is important to think about the value of your time. Don’t sign up to every social media channel, determine the one or two most relevant to your business and stick to it. Remember, it’s much better to have one excellent social media network than two platforms that you do not update regularly. Tune in next time, to hear more about the types of content you can share on social media and where to find it! Visit the Beef and Lamb Matters Blog for the latest updates!


You can follow @TheAHDB and @AHDB_BeefLamb to receive regular updates on our activities.

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.

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

How to integrate livestock into cereal rotations

This blog comes from Paul Hill, AHDB Cereals & Oilseeds Knowledge Exchange Manager for the South East. He has worked with a number of monitor farmers who farm both arable and livestock. Paul originally posted this blog in January of this year.

During a discussion regarding how best to integrate livestock into cereal rotations, it suddenly struck me how specialised agricultural staff have now become and that the days of the multi-talented ‘General Farm Worker’ now seems to have becoming a thing of the past.

While being a specialist isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it does mean that, for many arable farms, it’s not easy to introduce livestock onto a farm as the staff expertise is often not there.
To make matters even more complicated, SMR 13 of the cross compliance rules stipulate that livestock keepers must have sufficient competent staff to prevent livestock welfare problems.

The final concern that arable staff may well have is the fact managing livestock doesn’t go hand in hand with the word ‘holiday’!

However, there is a way around all of this that would be advantageous across different farming sectors and could certainly create opportunities

Farm grazing agreements, rolling grazing licences or share farming agreements would give a great opportunity for specialised arable farms to access skilled stock people and the livestock they manage. It may even bring you extra income.

However, before bringing a third party in to graze your cover crops, rotational grass swards or even your forward cereals, you need to be aware of the responsibilities associated with any such agreement. As it now stands the liabilities under a short term licence fall to the landowner.

Therefore, it is the owner of the land who is liable if a CC breach is breached by this grazing. This means that the financial penalty would fall upon the land owner (Licensor) rather than the grazier (Licensee).   With this in mind, it is crucial that a formal Grazing Licence is duly understood and signed by both parties prior to any animals being released onto the land.  Within this licence, it may well be worth entering a clause that ensures the Licensor is indemnified against any BPS deductions as a result of the licensee breaching any associated CC conditions.  However, this doesn’t make things rocket proof as the only real way to ensure this is to develop a good, trusting, working relationship with the grazier which can only be created if the agreement is beneficially working for both parties. It’s important to ensure everyone achieves the goals they require!

As part of the interest surrounding the benefits of livestock within arable operations, AHDB is carrying out a trial looking at beef systems in arable rotations. This project is investigating the possible benefits of using cattle within a more holistic farming operation in order to increase soil biology, and to benefit subsequent cereal yields through the integration of herbal leys within a rotation.

This sort of management may well prove to be important for farms that have a high black-grass infestation. Bringing the land out of production for two years and using it as a grazing and forage before returning it to cereals can help deplete the existing black-grass seed bank. As a bonus, this could generate a financial income from the grazing rent and/or, forage sales.

>Black-grass information sheet

Finally, there’s a non-profit national programme that promotes the financial sustainability of grazing various types of grassland, and utilising the right livestock for the right purpose. The Grazing Animals Project (GAP) has a grazing database that highlights available land and livestock, called ‘Stock Keep’. This can be found on the GAP website, grazinganimalsproject.org.uk.

With this in mind, I wonder if this kind of methodology now needs to be extended into mainstream farming so to encourage arable farmers and livestock managers to work more closely together. By working together, we can use each other’s specialisms to the greatest advantage.




The original blog can be found on the AHDB Cereals & Oilseeds website: http://cereals-blog.ahdb.org.uk/how-to-integrate-livestock-into-cereal-rotations-staff/

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

AHDB is beefing up returns from grass

Matt House is a beef farmer based in Somerset.  He is part of a group of farmers who are involved with the AHDB-funded ‘Beef from Grass’ project, which aims to highlight the potential of grass and forages for beef cattle production and provide practical guidance on how beef producers can improve their current grazing management. Here Matt blogs about the two-year project and how his herd is benefiting from good grass management.


I am part of a group of four beef improver farmers, who are interested in improving our beef performance from grass. A key element of the project was to link us up with four mentor grassland beef producers, which have really helped us in seeing the potential of grass and grazed forage to aid beef growth rates in beef cattle. The project is in its second year and I have seen some positive results. I have managed to increase forage utilisation by 30 per cent and grass growth from 9.8t Dry Matter/ha to 12-13t Dry Matter/ha on the new grass leys. How have I managed to do this?

The first thing I did when taking over the running of Bowden Farms was implement rotational grazing. This was achieved by splitting up the grass fields into smaller two hectare paddocks using electric fencing. The 69 Aberdeen Angus cross cows and their calves were moved every three days throughout the grazing season. The calves were sold at nine months of age, with an average weight of 321kg per head, which meant in total I managed to produce more than 22 tonnes of beef solely from forage.

I measure grass growth on a weekly basis using a plate meter. I upload this to grass management software, which assists me in analysing the data. I am currently focusing on preparing for the 2017 grazing season and have used the software to put together a spring grazing plan. The benefit of this is that it takes the guesswork out of grassland management and ensures that sufficient grass is grazed early enough to allow time for re-growth for the second rotation. The current grazing wedge is shown below, with grass growth at 12.9 Dry Matter kg/ha/day. So far this year 10.1kg N/ha of fertiliser has been applied.



I implement a 100 per cent out-wintering policy, which has helped me reduce my cost of production. The 122 suckler cows and heifers, which are due to calve this month, were out-wintered on stubble turnips supplemented with round bales of straw and hay arranged in situ.
The suckler cows will calve on the grass paddocks using the Dry Matter intakes calculated by the grass management software, which will adjust the cows’ daily grass allowance. This means that as each cow calves she will be changed from “dry” to “lactating” and the grass allocation will go up from 10kg/Dry Matter to 16kg/dry Matter, therefore changing the time spent in each paddock for the whole herd.


Alongside measuring the grass, I am also very keen to track animal performance throughout the grazing season. The cows have been weighed and body condition scored (BCS) before calving and their calves will be weighed at birth and then regularly throughout the year. This way I will be able to accurately measure how much beef I am producing from the grass.

Key outcomes in March 2017:

  •        All cows body condition scored (BCS), the average was BCS 3
  •        All first-calving heifers condition scored, average was BCS 3
  •    Cows will be monitored closely for signs of calving and removed from turnips and grouped on paddocks accordingly

For more information on the Beef from Grass project sign up to our Grazing Club e-newsletter by emailing: brp@ahdb.org.uk. More information is available in the BRP manual Planning Grazing Strategies for Better Returns.

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Red meat and health: cutting through the confusion

It can sometimes feel like the red meat sector is beset with challenges on all sides. Livestock farmers are only too familiar with the challenges of legislative issues, red tape, day-to-day animal husbandry and business management, and all the other things that go with running a farm. Then they turn on the news or open a newspaper and see a report or an advert urging people to eat less red meat for the sake of their health or because it is bad for the environment.

Rebutting these messages is a constant uphill battle for an industry with limited resources, particularly as there are now a plethora of days and weeks celebrating veganism and vegetarianism. On our side, individuals and organisations within the beef and lamb sectors have got together to promote Great British Beef week (from April 23) and Love Lamb Week (from September 1), which are gaining momentum year on year.



These weeks focus on celebrating all that is good about our products and our environmentally sustainable production systems. Unfortunately, all too often, those who oppose meat consumption focus on our negatives rather than their own positives.

There should be a balanced, properly informed debate on issues around consumption of red meat so people can make their own choices, and the work of AHDB seeks to provide that balance, using evidence-based messaging.



The reality is that we are omnivores. Meat has always been a part of the human diet and ninety-seven per cent of the population still eat it to some extent. Grazing animals, such as cattle and sheep, turn something we can’t eat (grass) into something we can, the nutrients from which are effectively deployed by our digestive system.
With so many headlines about the need to reduce our meat consumption, it is important to remember that levels of red meat consumption in the UK remain within the recommended guideline amount of 70g per day cooked weight. Red meat is a rich source of protein, which helps build and maintain muscles, plus it provides a number of vitamins and minerals, including B12, which is not found naturally in foods of plant origin.

As for the impact on the environment, many of England’s most iconic landscapes only look the way they do because of the extensive farming of cattle and sheep over hundreds of years. Livestock are responsible for some greenhouse gases in the form of methane, which is a natural by-product of rumination, however, these levels are falling as farming becomes more efficient.



On a final point, just ask yourself what is more natural than having cattle and sheep grazing pastures that could not be used to produce food in any other way?

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

An insight into how AHDB Beef & Lamb on-farm events are organised

In 2016, AHDB Beef & Lamb held just under 200 technical events across the country. Here Gemma Beevers, Events Manager (Knowledge Exchange), blogs about the work of her team and the importance of producer feedback in planning successful technical events.

I head up the AHDB Knowledge Exchange (KE) events team, running a programme of technical events for levy payers to help them to develop and improve their businesses and provide them with innovative ways of working.

We are a team of five (four of us are based in the York office, and one team member at the head office in Stoneleigh) who work across all six of AHDB’s divisions to deliver a range of practical, farmer-focused events. In the case of AHDB Beef & Lamb, these events are delivered under the Better Returns Programme (BRP) brand.



My team organise the logistical side of the events, looking after the venues, speakers, travel, accommodation, catering and equipment. We working closely with the KE team, who provide the technical content and source speakers as they generally know the best specialist speaker on particular subjects.

Once the logistics have been confirmed we then need to promote the events – I’m responsible for advertising through third parties such as the NFU, the National Sheep Association, vets, auction marts, and local grazing groups, as well as our regional hubs and communications teams.  

Our events are designed to help tackle current issues and to work with industry partners so producers are given the most relevant and up to date information.

Live to Dead events, which help producers understand the importance of livestock meeting target specification, are some of our most popular. The events were developed as it became apparent that the whole supply chain needed to have a better understanding of how to select livestock for slaughter. These specialist events will become even more important over the next three years as they will help us to meet our strategic aim to increase the number of animals meeting supplier specifications by 2% year on year, reaching 58% for cattle and 58% for sheep by 2020.

Last year more than 3,500 people attended our AHDB Beef & Lamb KE events. After every event we ask for feedback, which is essential for us in understanding how to improve our service to better suit the needs of our producers. In 2016, the feedback from our BRP events showed that more than 99% of attendees thought event speakers were knowledgeable and presented well on the technical subjects, as well as 97% of attendees who said that the event gave them practical ideas they could use to improve their business.

For details on the latest events in your area visit our website, where you can book online.

We always appreciate your feedback in helping us to improve our service to you. Please email us (brp.events@ahdb.org.uk) with any comments.

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

Are you up for the challenge?

Dr Liz Genever, AHDB Beef & Lamb senior livestock scientist, is calling on English sheep producers to take part in a new initiative that aims to understand the consequences of the rearing phase on the lifetime performance of ewes. Here she blogs about the project and what you can do to get involved.

Liz GeneverThe Challenge Sheep project is a new AHDB Beef & Lamb research project which aims to improve the efficiency of breeding flocks in England by looking at the management of ewe replacements. The project will track around 5,000 replacements from a range of sheep farms over seven years to understand how flock performance can be improved.

The initiative is the successor of the sheep key performance indicator (KPI) project, which ran from 2013 until 2016, and gathered and analysed data from three flocks in England. One of the key questions identified by this project was what impact the rearing phase had on ewe lamb performance when they became shearlings and later into life. For example, one of the project farms had an issue with lungworm in shearlings and the impact of that on their performance is seen for at least two production years after they are treated.

AHDB research and on-farm trials have shown that there are clear improvements to be made in managing replacement ewes entering the national flock. The Longwool project (funded by the Meat and Livestock Commission and Defra in 2007) found that up to 15 % of replacements are not retained after their first breeding season due to culling or death. 

Young sheep can also have a negative impact on overall flock performance due to poor lamb growth rates. In England, around 1.6 million ewes are entering the flock for the first time per year. Data from 1,800 ewes in the Longwool project suggests around 4% died in their first year, with another 7% being culled after their first year. If this was applied to the English sheep flock it would equate to around £14 million of value being lost to the industry each year due to culling and death in the first breeding year. This is based on shearlings being valued at £120 and with a 50% reduction in value if culled.

The Challenge Sheep project will be based on similar research that has been done around hoggets in Australia and New Zealand. The results of the project have been translated into literature by Beef + Lamb New Zealand and we want to draw on their methodologies, such as participatory research, to benefit our own industry.

Your industry needs you!
We are looking to recruit sheep producers who will be keen to use the data they are collecting via electronic identification (EID) to improve their decisions on ewe management. All farms that participate in the project will have access to cutting-edge information and will be supported by the AHDB research and knowledge exchange team to interpret the data so they can get the maximum benefit for their business. The aim is also to improve the gross margin of the Challenge Sheep farms by 25% over the duration of the project. The findings of the project will be communicated to industry through events, newsletters and articles involving the successful producers.

The project requires accurate data such as weights, body condition score, lambing data and lamb performance, which is already being collected through our benchmarking programme, so it should just be a case of looking at the data differently and making decisions supported by information gathered from the project. 

Any producers who are interested need to fill in an application form and then the AHDB Beef & Lamb research team will create a shortlist. In late spring/early summer I will be visiting the shortlisted farms, together with the newly appointed Challenge Sheep project manager before the final decisions are made. We are aiming to visit at least ten farms across England.

For more information about the project email me or phone 07790 378349, or you can contact your regional Knowledge Exchange Manager.

To apply to take part in the project visit the Challenge Sheep webpage, the deadline for applications is Monday 20 February.

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Have you got the selection factor?

AHDB Beef & Lamb is on the hunt for individuals with the beef and lamb X factor! Steve Dunkley, Knowledge Exchange Senior Manager, blogs about how he is aiming to find farming’s next big selection experts through a selection academy.

I am looking for people who have something special when it comes to selecting livestock for slaughter. My aim is to identify a team of passionate individuals who have the ability and enthusiasm to train others to select both sheep and cattle and therefore help the industry thrive. 

As part of AHDB’s new ‘Inspiring Success’ 2017-2010 strategy our target is to increase the number of animals meeting supplier specifications by two per cent year on year. So, in 2020, we are aiming for 58% of cattle and sheep to meet target specification. To do this I want to set up an initiative known as a Knowledge Exchange Supply Chain Programme, where we can work with farmers, processors, auction markets and retailers on the key factors that affect whether animals meet the target, including genetics, nutrition, health and selection. The selection academy will just be one of the many projects that form part of the wider Knowledge Exchange Supply Chain Programme.

Meeting target specification is important as it ensures the industry is producing what the market wants and ultimately keeping consumers eating beef and lamb. This is something that impacts beef and sheep producers’ profitability and is why I’m aiming to put together a team of people that will equip the industry with an understanding about the importance of sending stock to slaughter once they know they meet target specification for the market they are aiming for.

Although I’m keen that applicants have some knowledge of selecting livestock, we will work with those who are successful to develop their knowledge of consumer demands, processing considerations and finishing livestock as well as their core presentation and facilitation skills. AHDB will also provide useful resources such as presentation slides, technical literature and banners. What I do ask for is a willingness to learn and a passion to help the industry, as I want the final team to work across the country identifying opportunities to speak and demonstrate the selection message using live animals at meetings, events and shows.



Still not sure if this is the role for you? For some inspiration watch Steve Powdrill, our national selection specialist, assessing lambs before and after slaughter.
The deadline for applications is 10 February and assessment days will be held in the North and South of England from 6 March.

To apply for a chance to be part of our selection ‘dream team’ please visit our website for further details, fill out the application form and email to brp@ahdb.org.uk


If you would like to know more about our Knowledge Exchange activity, email: Steve.Dunkley@ahdb.org.uk or phone: 07841570549.