Friday, 28 June 2013

Underlining the economic role of exports

Austerity and economic revival. Phrases that have become commonplace in the last few years for reasons we are all aware of.

Boosting exports has long been heralded as a way of kick-starting the UK economic revival and this week we heard from Food and Farming Minister David Heath MP about the beef and lamb sector’s potential to drive export-led growth, built on a thriving domestic farming and agricultural industry.

Encouragingly, more than 100 delegates at the ninth EBLEX Export Conference heard Mr Heath, speaking via a pre-recorded video message, underline his determination to see the UK get the share of the global export market that he feels it deserves.

We’ve already made a good start, opening more than 60 non-EU markets for beef and lamb, for example, since August 2010, but there’s still more work to do. Importantly, this was acknowledged with the UK cited as being ‘ahead of the curve’ of the EU-27 in terms of exports, with the value of UK meat exports to countries outside the EU increasing by around 80 per cent between 2009 and 2012, compared to 75 per cent from the EU as a whole.

Addressing the conference, Mr Heath said it showed what a great potential we have in this sector for export-led growth and thanked the Agriculture & Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) and EBLEX for all the work carried out in this area. Last year, the UK exported 120,000 tonnes of beef and veal worth £389 million, and 95,000 tonnes of lamb worth £352 million. He added that EBLEX should have a key role, not just in boosting UK demand, but in opening up new overseas markets.

Delegates at this year’s conference heard from EBLEX export manager Jean-Pierre Garnier about the development of international meat markets. He outlined the key targets for lamb exports – China, Saudi Arabia, USA, Japan, South Africa and the Dominican Republic – and for beef – China, Singapore, Korea, Thailand, Bosnia and Taiwan.

The focus of attention, however, was on Russia – the story so far and the challenges still faced. Potential exports of ox livers, hearts and tongue, beef trimmings, flanks and shins, premium steak meat, lamb, lamb cuts and racks present huge opportunities. While market access has been secured, Mr Garnier stressed that technical issues still needed to be overcome before exports could commence. Its importance, however, was clear, not least due to its limited production but strong demand for quality beef and lamb.

The over arching message was that we are moving in the right direction in terms of making the most of export opportunities but more can still be done. Not only will it help fuel the export-led growth, highlighted by Mr Heath, but help maximise returns for producers via full carcase utilisation and finding the most lucrative markets for each cut. A win, win for all concerned.

As Mr Heath concluded: “I passionately believe in the excellence of the produce that we produce in this country. It’s an easy sell wherever we go in the world and exports are key to the growth in our economy that we all want to see.”

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Deep sea fishing for a fillet steak? Why we need to feed the minds of youngsters

On the face of it, learning about food – where it comes from, how it’s produced and how to cook it – would seem like the one of the more enjoyable and easier to grasp challenges in our educational lives.

With the seemingly relentless conveyor belt of food and cookery programmes bombarding the airwaves – not to mention the obligatory books as an accompaniment – it would appear that there’s never been a better time to learn about where your food comes from and how best to cook it, irrespective of age.

Or so you’d think. A recent survey for the British Nutrition Foundation (BNF) revealed that almost a third of UK primary school pupils thought cheese was made from plants, while a quarter thought fish fingers came from chicken or pigs.

A third is not an insignificant figure. What next? A spot of deep sea fishing for a nice fillet steak or leg of lamb?

But let’s not dwell on the negatives. Far more encouraging was another stand-out figure from the research which showed that children would like to cook more, with 85 per cent across primary and secondary age groups saying they liked cooking. Farm visits had also been attended by 73 per cent of five to eight-year-olds, with the figure rising to 80 per cent for older children.

Curriculum reforms are also afoot to make food and nutrition compulsory for eight to 14-year-olds with an emphasis on encouraging children to develop not only a love of food and cooking now, but one which will stay with them in adulthood.

Educating and encouraging youngsters to cook and find out more about where their food comes from has been and continues to be one of the cornerstones of EBLEX’s work. While we’re certainly not alone in our desire to teach youngsters about food production, preparation and nutrition, we continue to promote the educational message.

Our 5by25 campaign, for example, continues to help people to learn to cook at least five dishes by the age of 25, providing an array of recipes to tempt would be cooks into the kitchen. As with anything new to the uninitiated, being let loose in the kitchen can be a daunting prospect, which is why the website also gives some hand hints on food buying, storage, cooking methods, time management and preparation and knife skills.

Similarly, the Red Tractor Make it with Mince Young Chef Challenge also proactively encourages youngsters to come up with an original beef or lamb dish as part of a national completion and have the chance cook in front of celebrity chef James Martin.  Not only does it provide useful resources for students, but also resources for teachers to use as part of their lesson plans for key stage three and four.

The Agriculture & Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) also supports and delivers a range of curriculum-based food, farming, growing and the environment education programmes for primary and secondary schools across the UK.

Our rain-fed pasture production system means we have one of the most efficient livestock production systems in the world. Cooking is an essential part of life. While not everyone will become, or even want to become a ‘foodie’, nurturing the most rudimentary appreciation of where our produce comes from and what to do with it is likely stay high on the political agenda. With that in mind, we will continue to play our part in teaching youngsters about the importance of food and its provenance.

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Lessons in knowledge transfer from Georgia, the painted cow

Visitors to Beef Expo last month may have been rather taken aback to see a brightly painted cow on the EBLEX stand, which bore more than a passing resemblance to a Mondrian painting and looked quite unlike something you would expect to see at an agricultural show.

Georgia with EBLEX board member Paul Westaway,
Farming Minister David Heath and EBLEX's Katie Brian
Georgia proved to be a big hit at the annual event, prompting a lot of questions and being “papped” throughout the day by visitors taking photos on their mobile phones. She even posed for a photo with Farming Minister David Heath. Georgia did, however, fulfil a more serious purpose, as she communicated an important message to the farming audience. The coloured panels were designed to represent the different cuts of meat that can be produced from a beef animal, with the aim of encouraging farmers to think about the end product of their labours. By seeing themselves as meat producers rather than cattle producers, the hope is that they will give more thought to the specification of their animals when they send them to slaughter, thus maximising their returns.

Selection for slaughter is one of the five areas of focus of the Better Returns Programme, a well-established knowledge transfer initiative which is a key part of our drive to improve the efficiency of the beef and sheep industry. Of the approximately 60,000 beef and sheep farms in England, over 20,000 have voluntarily signed up to the BRP and we encourage more to join at every possible opportunity.

Finding new ways to communicate knowledge transfer messages is an ongoing challenge for the BRP team, who have a major presence at key industry events, which this year include Beef Expo, North and South West Sheep and the Livestock Show, as well as arranging almost 300 farm events each year.

The creative juices were obviously flowing when ideas for this season’s events were discussed, as, in addition to Georgia, the EBLEX stand at Beef Expo featured a 1:10 scale model of a cattle handling system, enabling cattle handling expert Miriam Parker to talk visitors through the key factors affecting the design and operation of a handling facility. A ‘muck carpet’ provided a very visual (but not too smelly!) representation of the application rates for muck and slurry and the vet’s area included such horrors as a liver infected by fluke and pneumonia-infected lungs, encouraging producers to minimise the risk of these conditions and therefore reduce the cost to the industry of condemned organs.

BCS sheep models with EBLEX's Liz Genever and Katie Brian
The regional sheep events (North Sheep and South West Sheep) proved just as interactive, with new, tactile body condition score (BCS) models making their debut appearance, designed to help farmers judge whether sheep are at target at key points during the year. To bring them to life, the BRP team made eye-catching wooden sheep to attach the models too, painting them in ‘traffic light’ colours to show farmers what BCS they should be aiming for. This was just one area of a busy EBLEX stand, which included everything from ultrasound scanning of live ewes to a butchery demonstration by one of our in-house butchers, who talked to visitors about our work in developing new cuts to encourage people to cook with lamb.

A painted cow or some colourful wooden sheep are no substitute for the detailed technical information available in the comprehensive range of BRP manuals and other literature, but they do provide an effective way to draw people on to the stand and give our technical experts a hook to engage with levy payers and offer their expertise.

Hopefully you’ve already had the chance to see our team in action at one of these events, if not our events calendar gives more details of where you can find us over the summer. If you’re an English beef or sheep farmer and are not already a member of the Better Returns Programme, you can sign up here.

Friday, 7 June 2013

Red meat’s royal seal of approval on the global stage

Securing new export markets has been and continues to be one of EBLEX’s key strategies for beef and lamb. It is vital to a healthy global market, with cuts matched to where the markets are and production maximised where it is most efficient and sustainable. It also helps underpin the domestic beef cattle and sheep prices.

This week, in collaboration with BPEX, we proudly showcased what we have to offer the global market to key embassy staff and parliamentarians during a barbecue in Westminster. The event was also graced with a special message from HRH The Prince of Wales was relayed by Agriculture & Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) chairman John Godfrey.

Against the beautiful backdrop of Westminster’s Garden Museum guests, including Food and Farming Minister David Heath MP, former Food and Farming Minister Sir Jim Paice MP, Beef and Lamb All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) chairman Neil Parish MP, EFRA Select Committee Chairman Anne McIntosh MP and Bill Wiggin MP, were treated to a selection of barbecued beef, lamb and pork dishes. They heard from HRH’s letter of support how he was particularly encouraged that the UK was, after 15 years of setbacks, again a major player in the global market.

From left: Food and Farming Minister David Heath MP, AHDB chairman John Godfrey, EBLEX chairman John Cross and EBLEX sector director Nick Allen

 In his letter HRH said: “Our climate and geography produce some of the best grassland and this, coupled with our high standards of animal welfare, means we have a product of unrivalled quality, tenderness and taste. We are also able to boast robust assurance schemes, meaning that there is full traceability within the meat supply chain. The last few months have thrown into sharp relief just how crucially important this is for retailers and, ultimately, for customers.

“Every steak, every leg of lamb, every pork chop is the product of skills passed down through generations of farmers who, by their skill and industry, have created one of the most beautiful and iconic landscapes in the world.”

Since August 2010, the AHDB, through EBLEX, has helped open more than 60 new non-EU export markets for beef and sheep meat alone. Pig meat continues to conquer new boundaries with China and Australia among the recent nations with whom trade has begun. It’s a great story we have to tell, although we should not underestimate though the importance of the EU nations where the bulk of our exports still go.

Exports of sheep meat now represent 36 per cent of UK production and are worth £357.1 million to our economy. For beef, we have grown exports to 16 per cent of UK production, with a value of £388.9 million. This is from a standing start of zero when exports of beef fully resumed in 2006. Pig meat exports are a continuing success story, with £308 million sales overseas last year, totalling 241,800 tonnes.

As we know, there is huge potential for further export development and a reciprocal open trade between our nations is key to that. Our barbecue event not only celebrated our existing relationships with countries where we already export beef, lamb and pig meat, but will hopefully help facilitate the creation of new ties with key embassy staff who enjoyed some of our products in a quintessentially English setting.

From left: EBLEX chairman John Cross, Beef and Lamb APPG chairman Neil Parish MP and EBLEX sector director Nick Allen