Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Showcasing Quality Standard beef and lamb at Europe’s largest agricultural show

What have a rural pub with its own livestock in the middle of Paris and around 600,000 people got in common?

No, it’s not the start of a bar room joke. There’s no punch line. The simple answer is a mutual interest in all things agricultural and good food − where it comes from and the best ways to cook it.

The SIA International Agricultural Show in Paris has this week certainly been living up to its billing as the biggest show of its kind on the European stage, with thousands of visitors flocking to the south west of the capital to attend the show.

Attracting wave after wave of visitors, young and old, the show's carnival atmosphere has certainly been keeping everyone thoroughly entertained. Auctions, live bands and as far as the eye could see, business delegates, families and groups of youngsters in particular have been taking a keen interest in looking at the livestock and learning about where their food comes from.

With so many visitors and a rainbow mosaic of stands, featuring everything from livestock to a food hall catering for all manner of tastes, it'd be easy to miss something. So, how do you stand out in what is ultimately a small city of gastronomy in what most accept to be the global centre of gastronomy?
Visitors head to the EBLEX stand at SIA
EBLEX's Rémi Fourrier and his team have put a huge amount of effort in, both pre-event and during the event to create a buzz around Quality Standard beef and lamb. Featuring livestock, a St George meat cuts display, EBLEX staff on hand to answer questions and lamb recipes on tap via on-stand video screens, visitors have been drawn in droves. Seeing is one thing, of course. Tasting the product is another and, with a dining area inside, it's easy to see why the EBLEX stand is so popular with visitors. During our visit chef Gilles Vallée served up dish after dish to those who dropped in, showcasing exactly what we have to offer. And judging by the empty plates, the product seemed to be clearly hitting the mark.

Video screens featuring lamb recipes

Chef Gilles Vallee serving up beef & lamb dishes to visitors
The stand also doubles up as an office with a meeting room for importers, wholesalers, retailers and butchers. It provides the perfect platform for EBLEX to maintain, renew, and develop contacts with professional organisations, official bodies and the press.
In a week where we revealed the volume of beef exports to France in 2013 were up eight per cent, the timing of SIA this year has been perfect. If you've got something good to say, no one's going to know unless you shout about it. Telling potential customers about Quality Standard beef and lamb is no different. And where better to say it than on Europe's biggest agricultural stage.

Thursday, 20 February 2014

Getting farmers talking with Grazing Club

Farmers are interested in talking to other farmers and finding out what they’re doing. That’s undoubtedly one of the reasons why we get such a good turnout for our Better Returns Programme (BRP) events, most of which take place on farms, giving producers the chance to get together and discuss particular technical issues as well as having a look at someone else’s farm system.

While there’s no substitute for meeting face-to-face, social media in general, and Twitter in particular, has successfully provided a virtual meeting place for people with common interests. This has proved particularly useful for livestock farmers, who are often based in remote locations and whose ‘day job’ is anything but nine-to-five, giving them little opportunity to leave the farm.

It’s the impressive uptake of Twitter by farmers that inspired our senior livestock scientist, Dr Liz Genever, to set up a new Grazing Club, which places as much emphasis on meeting online as it does on traditional on-farm events.

Liz’s love of all things grass and forage-related is well known – she is responsible for much of the work done by the BRP in this area and can rarely be seen without a sward stick in her hand. Through Grazing Club she aims to unite English beef and sheep producers who are convinced of the benefits of well-managed grassland and are keen to take their production from grass to the next level.

Using a monthly email newsletter and a dedicated area of the EBLEX website, the club gives members access to a range of grassland-management resources, specially created by Liz and other experts, as well as using the excellent BRP materials that already exist. Over the 2014 grazing season other activities are planned, such events and webinars which will look at particular elements of grazing in more detail.

However, what’s key to making it a true club is encouraging members to start building up a Grazing Club community online, giving people a forum where they can tap into other farmers’ knowledge and experience and share ideas.

The conversation has already started on Twitter using #GrazingClub – hopefully over the coming days and weeks this will gain momentum and provide a really useful resource for England’s grassland farmers.

You can find out more about Grazing Club and how to sign up on the EBLEX website

Thursday, 13 February 2014

Positive message from Farming Minister at Outlook Conference

Industry insight and analysis play a crucial role in helping shape key business decisions.

This is why events like the annual AHDB Outlook Conference are such important fixtures in the industry calendar for those in the meat and dairy sectors. This year’s conference at One Great George Street, hosted by EBLEX, BPEX, DairyCo and AHDB Market Intelligence, again hit the mark.

Despite the horrendous weather still affecting swathes of the country and a threatened Tube strike, around 180 delegates headed to the venue in Westminster to hear the latest on how the UK supply chain has responded to recent challenges and the potential impact of Free Trade Agreements on international trade for livestock products.

Representatives from the beef and lamb sector, pig and poultry sectors, and dairy sector, also heard market overviews and forecasts for their respective sectors in the three bespoke breakout sessions. And judging from the positive buzz around the event, the networking, question and answer sessions, and positive anecdotal feedback, Outlook again proved its worth.

From left: DairyCo chairman Tim Bennett, BPEX chairman Stewart Houston, Food and Farming Minister George Eustice, AHDB chief executive Tom Taylor and EBLEX chairman John Cross

This year’s event saw Food and Farming Minister George Eustice deliver the opening address, inevitably covering the very current and very well-documented flooding issue, as well as key industry topics such as the on-going important role for exports and succession planning in the agricultural sector. In a break from event tradition, the Minister also took questions mid-session, giving delegates a valuable opportunity to raise specific issues with him in a key industry forum. And a lot of encouragement could be taken from what he said - “UK food and drink exports are on the up, with an impressive £18.2 billion of overseas orders in 2012, but we could still do more,” and “I want to see more UK produce showcased on the global stage, that’s why we’ve launched the International Exports Action Plan and Food is Great Campaign to help UK businesses export more.”

Food and Farming Minister George Eustice addressing delegates at the AHDB Outlook Conference
The value of any event, of course, is often in the detail. Engaging presentations from the Minister and keynote speakers Connor McVeigh, director of supply chain for McDonald’s UK, on supply chain matters, and GIRA director Richard Brown, on international trade, were well received. As with any presentation, a silent response would’ve been concerning, but the response was warm, prompting further questions and wider discussion among the key industry stakeholders present.

What about the specifics for the beef and lamb sector? A well-attended breakout session chaired by EBLEX chairman John Cross, saw AHDB Market Intelligence senior analysts Debbie Butcher and Paul Heyhoe provide valuable insights into the cattle and sheep market outlook. Both identified challenges facing the industry and, referencing EBLEX's Stocktake Report, what producers could do to potentially improve their bottom line. EBLEX export manager Jean-Pierre Garnier focused on key export market developments and opportunities, highlighting successes, challenges and potential future opportunities in new export markets.

Outlook attracted around 180 delegates
So, is the Outlook Conference, which has been running for over a decade, still relevant to our industry? A delegate list approaching the 200 mark, ministerial endorsement, informative and engaging keynote presentations, plus valuable industry insight and forecasting as we move forwards in 2014. All suggest the answer is undoubtedly yes. 

 If you missed the event all available presentations can be found on the EBLEX website here.

Thursday, 6 February 2014

Storms and floods don’t dampen enthusiasm for open meetings

I’m sure there are many better things beef and sheep farmers can think of doing on a wet, stormy night in Somerset than attending an EBLEX open meeting. With so much flooding in the region, there is plenty to contend with already so it was fantastic that so many made it to our event in Sedgemoor on Tuesday.

This was the middle one of three open meetings we held in the southern region between January 31 and February 5 and all were well attended.  The first event was held in Ashford Market in Kent and drew about 80 people keen to learn more about what we did. The second at Sedgemoor auction market, attracted around the same number, who braved appalling weather to come along, find out more and ask questions of EBLEX staff. Similarly, the last one in Launceston, had good attendance despite news reports warning people not to travel west of Exeter!
EBLEX Senior Southern Regional Manager Dr Phil Hadley addressing the audience at the open meeting in Sedgemoor
So why hold these meetings, which followed a similar series in the northern region before Christmas? It’s not that we don’t meet producers every day in some form or another and are able to talk about what we do. However, these were dedicated sessions to really showcase some of our work and explain how it helps us move towards achieving a more sustainable and profitable industry by adding value wherever we can. It is not about blowing our own trumpet, but about ensuring we are effectively telling people how we are spending the levy we collect.

The official lines are there to look into it if you want to. In 2012/13, EBLEX levy income was just over £15 million. With this investment from the industry, we provide a range of services, from market information and knowledge transfer, to research and development and marketing at home and globally. Exactly how the activity is split and planned is set out in a corporate plan which is approved by the EBLEX board before going out to wider industry consultation and finally being signed off by Defra as part of the AHDB corporate plan and so on.

That’s all well and good, but our feedback suggests that isn’t always what people want to know. It is essential to know there is a process with good governance, but what are we actually doing with the money and how does it benefit producers and processors on the ground? Communicating this is key and that is why we have hosted these open meetings. It was a chance for producers to come along for free and find out more about what we are doing in the marketing arena, with cuts development, on the export front and gain some insight into the latest market information. There were great beef rolls on offer as well.

It was a good programme for the evenings and seemed to hit the mark, judging from the feedback forms filled out afterwards. Dr Phil Hadley, senior regional manager for the southern region, introduced the evening and gave an overview of the beef and sheep meat export work we do, where the biggest export markets are and where we are targeting next. Joseph Keating, assistant regional manager for the south, looked at latest market trends and forecasts, while Hugh Judd, from the trade marketing team, gave an overview of what we are doing on the marketing front, both working with retailers to promote beef and lamb as well as what we are doing in the consumer arena to encourage purchases.

Finally, trade marketing executive Martin Eccles gave a cutting demonstration, looking at new butchery techniques to make the most of the carcase.

Our take-out was that there was genuine interest in the work and appreciation of the range of activity we have going on. That’s not to say there were not challenges in certain areas and specific questions relating to, for instance, imports from New Zealand. This type of forum gave levy payers the chance to quiz the experts directly in an open forum.

So it is likely we will repeat the exercise in the future. If you have something you want to ask us though, please go to either the levy payer website or the trade website to see if the answers you want are there. If not, or if you just want to give us some feedback, use the contacts page to find the right person to direct your queries at and we will do our best to answer them. You don’t have to wait for the next meeting.