Thursday, 27 December 2012

Review of 2012

With 2012 about to draw to an end, what better time to take a look back at some of the events of our year?

January saw the launch of the third chapter of the EBLEX environmental roadmap, Down to Earth, to an audience of journalists and stakeholders in London. With the first two instalments, Change in the Air and Testing the Water, the roadmaps provide a single cohesive document, examining a wide range of issues linked to the overall carbon hoofprint of the English beef and lamb sector. Watch out for an update on progress in January 2013.

Around the same time, Liberal Democrat agriculture spokesman Andrew George launched our week-long Landscapes without Livestock exhibition at Westminster. The exhibition drew attention to the Landscapes without Livestock report, highlighting the crucial role livestock plays in maintaining the English countryside. It drew attention to the potential impact on some of England’s most cherished landscapes if beef cattle herds and sheep flocks declined or disappeared as a result of the industry becoming unsustainable.

Exports gathered further momentum this year, particularly with the development of non-EU markets. Significantly, access for beef and lamb to the Russian market re-opened recently and shipments of beef are expected to start early in the new year. British beef was also showcased recently by a delegation from the industry, led by Secretary of State Owen Paterson, to Hong Kong. With access to more than 50 non-EU markets, our work is helping producers capitalise on the opportunities that are presented.

Our Better Returns Programme continued to help beef and sheep producers identify where improvements can be made to the businesses with more than 250 events held this year. Areas covered ranged from breeding and selection for slaughter, to nutrition and improving grazing management.

On the marketing front, 2012 has also been very active with our first TV advertising campaign for four years, communicating to consumers that cooking with beef and lamb can be very simple and rewarding. EBLEX also joined forces with Henry Herbert, one half of the Fabulous Baker Brothers, to launch a Master Butchery scheme in association with Quality Standard Mark beef and lamb.

Bringing industry stakeholders and others with an interest in the industry together is another key area we have developed, notably with our northern and south west regional conferences and the inaugural processor conference earlier this year.

In a similar vein we also played a significant role in the re-establishment of the All Party Parliamentary group for Beef and Lamb under the chairmanship of Neil Parish MP. The latest meeting on exports and related issues proved most valuable in raising awareness among parliamentarians and we are looking forward to further productive dialogue in 2013.

There is far too much to cover in one blog and this one just scratches the surface of EBLEX activity this year. Suffice to say, we look forward to continuing working with you for a sustainable and efficient beef and lamb sector in 2013.

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Getting the message through on opportunities for beef and lamb exports

Recognition of a job well done is always welcome. A number of times this year we have highlighted the amount of work carried out in capitalising on new export opportunities for beef and lamb.

This work has included a focus on the development of new markets, particularly non-EU markets, with the most recent success being the re-opening of market access to Russia.

Last week our head of trade development, Peter Hardwick, gave a presentation to the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Beef and Lamb, updating members and non-members, as well as representatives from organisations including the NFU and NSA, on exports and exported-related issues.

Addressing the meeting, Peter outlined the global opportunities for beef and lamb and highlighted global markets, consumption shifts, export opportunities and progress on market access.

It provided a fantastic opportunity for EBLEX to detail the current state of play on exports and clearly left an impression on those who attended. As part of a wider House of Commons backbench debate on animal welfare (exports) the same day, EBLEX’s work was commended by Beef and Lamb APPG chairman Neil Parish MP and vice chairman Roger Williams MP.

The level of engagement among attendees at the APPG meeting was excellent, prompting questions and debate on a range of topics, from disease outbreak and control to the outlook for beef and lamb prices in the new year.

Coming to the end of another busy year, this recognition of our work and the ability to stimulate debate among a wide range of industry stakeholders is encouraging as we move forwards to meet fresh challenges in 2013.

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Getting the next generation into farming

It will come as no surprise to anyone that, according to a recent BBC article, the average age of a UK farm holder is 58, 58% of UK farms are in the hands of over-55s and only 3% are held by under-35s.

With stats like this appearing all too often in the media, encouraging young people to enter the farming industry has become a key priority over recent years. It was a theme EBLEX chairman John Cross touched on at our annual conference when he said that the beef and sheep sector can only capitalise on the current market potential by attracting highly skilled young people in order to keep the momentum going.

With this in mind, the fact that two recent events have put young people in the livestock sector in the spotlight and recognised the valuable role they place is something which should be welcomed.

The first of these was the joint levy PhD seminar hosted by BPEX, DairyCo, EBLEX, HCC and QMS. The annual event brings together PhD and MSc students who we support in order to both provide information relevant to our research priorities and to stimulate their interest in careers in the livestock sector. More information about the students’ projects can be found on our website.

Every funded student gives a presentation about their project, with a prize being awarded for the best presentation from a final year student. This year the award went to Laura Cavill for her PhD looking at methods of detection, elimination and control of Clostridium estertheticum in the red meat industry.

The breadth and depth of knowledge demonstrated by the students at the seminar was certainly impressive and the ambition is that they will go on to make good use of their skills with fulfilling careers within the livestock industry.

The second event was the NFU Future of Livestock Conference, aimed specifically at those under-40 and working in the livestock sector, which took place earlier this week. Attended by over 100 delegates, and with a range of high-profile speakers addressing the issue of how 21st century beef and sheep farmers can feed the nation, it was hard not to leave with the impression of a forward-thinking and vibrant industry.

For those who remain unconvinced, initiatives such as Farmers Weekly’s Farmers Apprentice and Farmers Guardian’s FG 26/46 are also doing a lot to profile young entrants to the agricultural sector and the opportunities on offer to them. Hopefully some day soon these messages will also trickle through to the wider media.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Russia - land of export opportunity

It can’t have escaped anyone’s attention that UK beef and lamb could soon be back on the menu in Russia, with exports potentially worth millions to the industry.

Defra's announcement that exports of beef and lamb to Russia are to resume was welcome news. The opportunity speaks for itself, with our estimates suggesting that the deal could be worth between £80 million and £115 million over three years. Russia is a major importer of beef – around 600,000 tonnes – and the long-term trend in Russian production is downward.

A year ago during the Prime Minister’s visit to Moscow, the issue of securing access for UK beef and lifting the remaining import restrictions was discussed, providing a good platform for finalising an agreement.

Of course, these things don’t happen overnight and a lot of effort has gone into making this happen. Earlier this year, for example, we hosted a delegation of Russian vets who spent a week with Defra’s export team visiting farms and processing facilities, working towards developing potential market access for the UK.

Beef exports are expected to begin from a limited number of plants in the new year, with lamb exports following in April. The potential for beef exports to Russia is enormous and the latest developments underline the importance of EBLEX’s work to improve market access for beef and lamb in non-EU countries. The opening of the Russian market is part of EBLEX’s strategy to secure new markets in order to optimise returns, in particular for products for which there is a low demand internally.

Exports also provide opportunities for improved carcase utilisation and a floor to the market, giving greater flexibility for processors to absorb variations in demand in the domestic market.

As we’ve said, the announcement about Russia is welcome news and the door which has been closed for 16 years is now open for the industry to seize new opportunities.