Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Demonstrating EBLEX work at Grassland & Muck 2014

It’s always useful to speak face-to-face with farmers, and last week at Grassland & Muck 2014, EBLEX representatives had the chance to do just that on their stand at the Stoneleigh Park-based event.

At the hub of the EBLEX, DairyCo and British Grassland Society (BGS) stand was The Forage Café, a place for visitors to take the weight off their feet after browsing the 190-acre event, and chat to a range of experts over a complimentary drink. 

Dr Liz Genever, one of the representatives on the stand, said that many visitors who called in for a brew and a well-earned rest were keen to find out more about the role of EBLEX, with many surprised to learn the extent of the work done on the levy pound. 

Other visitors made a beeline for the five interactive demonstrations on the stand, which offered information and advice on growing lucerne, using a plate meter to get the best out of livestock, analysing soil compaction, recommended grass and clover varieties and forthcoming changes to pesticide regulations. 

Experts manning each of the demonstration areas reported high levels of interest and said that the opportunity to speak with farmers in such an open way was hugely beneficial to both parties.  Liz was on hand to talk about lucerne and said that although many of the people she engaged with were aware of it, some of them were concerned about its suitability.  This is understandable because lucerne isn’t appropriate for all land types. Although when it is, it’s a great option that offers many benefits in terms of yield, protein and drought tolerance.

Dr Paul Hargreaves, from Scotland’s Rural College, demonstrated ways to identify soil compaction.  He said that a large number of people were keen to talk to him about how the heavy rainfall over the last two years has impacted their land, with many taking away tips on how to analyse their soil and respond to the findings accordingly.
Grassland and Muck wasn’t the only event taking place last week, with Beef Expo also on in Hexham.  This was another fantastic opportunity for the EBLEX team to meet and chat with farmers from all over the country, and there was particular interest in Graymar Irresistible, a heifer that was painted to show where different beef cuts come from.  The innovative idea helped the EBLEX team to win a highly commended award for their indoor trade stand. Congratulations to all involved!

If you couldn’t make it to Grassland & Muck this year, or if you did go and missed the EBLEX stand, then why not check out the short videos from each of the demonstrations on the EBLEX YouTube channel? In the below video, Liz talks about lucerne.

Such was the positive response to the set-up of the stand at Grassland and Muck 2014 that plans are already being made to replicate it at Grassland UK 2015, which is held at The Royal Bath & West Showground in May. If you’re there, call in to The Forage Café. The EBLEX team is eager to meet you!

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Launch of EBLEX app to keep farmers informed on the go

The expression “news travels fast” has never been so true. With the advancement of technology over the last few years, most people now carry in their pocket a device of some sort that offers an almost infinite world of information, via the convenience of internet.

This week we launched the new EBLEX mobile app to ensure beef and sheep farmers have the latest information at their fingertips. The free app means farmers can access the information they need when they need it, whether at home, out in the field, or on the road.

In just a few clicks famers can view the latest prices and trends, market information, find out about upcoming events and breaking news stories, check out what’s new from the Better Returns Programme (BRP) and see the latest weather reports from your current location. In short, it’s a one-stop shop of useful information that will be an asset to all beef and sheep farmers and those in the processing sector.
The app has been especially designed with levy payers in mind and has facilities that allow you to search for the nearest auction markets to compare prices, favourite specific markets for quick access and create a personalised library of technical manuals. 
We are well aware of the frustrations some producers face with internet coverage being somewhat sporadic in rural locations, and the app is designed with this in mind too. Of course, it will need wi-fi or mobile data connectivity to download and update, but once the information has been updated it can be accessed even when offline.  Favourite technical manuals can be quickly downloaded to the device and then accessed anytime, anywhere. The EBLEX mobile app is available on both Apple and Android platforms. To find it simply visit Apple’s App Store or Google Play and search for EBLEX.

Communicating with stakeholders about a range of topics is a priority for EBLEX.  From research and helping to improve efficiency, to latest market prices, countering negative arguments about the industry to showcasing EBLEX activity, we are keen to ensure the industry is fully informed about everything that is going on.

It’s also important that we listen to what you want, and feedback from our annual stakeholder survey suggested that new tools to help access business information would be welcome.  Hopefully you will find the app can help to achieve exactly that. Whether you are social media savvy or a bit of a technophobe, the new app was developed for all so please do embrace it and let us know what you think so that we can continue to provide the information you want, when you want it.

You can find the link on Apple here:
You can find the link on Google Play here:

Thursday, 15 May 2014

The importance of choosing recommended grasses

It’s a drum that EBLEX has been banging for quite some time, but the importance of well-managed grassland is something that beef and sheep farmers should ignore at their peril.

With input costs constantly increasing, grass is the most economic feedstuff that farmers have available throughout the year, either as grazing or conversed forage. However, there is huge potential on most grassland farms to increase the amount and quality of the grass and clover grown and eaten.

Re-seeding or over-seeding at the appropriate time, and selecting the right grass type and seed mixture to suit the system and situation, is key to achieving higher yields, increased quality and improved consistency.

Selecting varieties from the Recommended Grass and Clover Lists (RGCL) means producers can be sure they’re choosing grasses and clovers that have undergone at least six years of independent testing – the first three to get on the National List, then a further three to become fully recommended. Only the best varieties make it – the final decision is made by a group consisting of breeders, merchants, farmers and advisers based on data from trial plots grown across the country. Once varieties become out-classed by newer material, they are removed.

The RGCL scheme has changed in recent years – it is no longer partially funded by merchants, which means the data is available to everyone. The testing is funded by plant breeders through the British Society of Plant Breeders (BSPB) and the ruminant levy boards for England and Wales – EBLEX, DairyCo and Hybu CigCymru (HCC/Meat Promotion Wales). Farmers who still rely on old varieties are missing out on millions of pounds worth of investment to produce new grasses that are far superior in important aspects such as yield, digestibility and spring growth.

The 2014 lists have just been published and include eight new varieties - four intermediate perennial ryegrasses, two late perennial ryegrasses, one hybrid ryegrass and one red clover variety. Both the RGCL handbook, designed for use by producers, and the full lists, which are primarily for merchants, are now available on the EBLEX website.

To make the lists even easier to use, an online tool is now available on the DairyCo website, which enables producers to compare different ryegrass varieties and assists them in selecting varieties to suit their individual farm requirements.

For information and for a working demonstration of the new ryegrasses tool, visit stand 329 at the Grassland & Muck event on 21 and 22 May at Stoneleigh Park, where experts from DairyCo, EBLEX and the British Grassland Society (BGS) will be on hand to answer any forage-related questions. 

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

The facts about slaughter in accordance with religious rites

It can’t have escaped anyone’s attention that the subject of Halal has again hit the headlines this week.

Specifically, the subject matter has related to halal chicken and issues of transparency, in terms of labelling, for consumers. The topic is an emotive one and one that inevitably polarises public opinion.   

What is important, however, is that all parties contributing to the debate are fully informed of the facts. There is currently a lack of clarity and understanding about the Halal sector, for example, particularly in the ability to identify stun/non-stun slaughter. Halal does not mean non-stun per se – a study conducted by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) in 2011, for example, found that 90 per cent of sheep slaughter is pre-stunned, a point often misunderstood. The issue has gained some traction in the first quarter of this year. From a debate in the House of Lords in January, to considerable coverage in the national press, interest in the subject remains high on the agenda.

Indeed, this week saw the start of a mini inquiry into slaughter in accordance with religious rites by the All Party Parliamentary Group for Beef and Lamb. A meeting was also held on the same subject by the Associate Parliamentary Group for Animal Welfare.

As we’ve said, it can tend to polarise opinion and, irrespective of what some headlines scream at the public, it’s imperative to take a step back and look at the facts to ensure the debate remains well-informed.

The humane slaughter of cattle and sheep is governed by EU law and enforced in every abattoir in England by DEFRA and the Food Standards Agency under The Welfare of Animals (Slaughter or Killing) Regulations 1995 (WASK), soon to repealed for the incoming Welfare of Animals at the Time of Killing (WATOK) regulation.

EU legislation permits member states to allow a derogation in the case of slaughter of animals without prior stunning for religious rites and this includes both non-stun Halal and Jewish Shechita slaughter. If a derogation is made for slaughter for religious rites, it falls outside the normal requirements for stunning.

Halal represents a significant growing market for the English sheep sector. Average sheep meat consumption in the UK is 4.4kg per person versus an estimated 30kg per person for Muslim consumers. This highlights the important role Muslim consumers play in sheep meat consumption.

The EU is currently conducting a consultation with consumers across all member states to explore options for labelling, giving information about slaughter methods. Ultimately, it is about animal welfare, not religion, and will no doubt prompt a great deal of further debate for some time to come. However, that debate must be based on facts if any progress is to be made for all consumers.

Thursday, 1 May 2014

Positive global outlook for UK sheep meat exports

Recent indications have highlighted that the Chinese import market for sheep meat has shown an increasing appetite for the whole of the carcase, rather than just the cheaper cuts.

Securing market access to China for ruminant meat is a long-term ambition for EBLEX, but while we currently unable to export product there, China’s continuing demand does inadvertently create other potentially lucrative opportunities for the UK.

While Chinese import growth has been slowing, largely due to smaller volumes available on the global market, the volume of product taken from other major suppliers is still significant. For example, March figures indicated that shipments from New Zealand increased 15 per cent on the year, while shipments from Australia increased marginally. While Uruguay sends considerably less product, its year-on-year figures for March still showed a threefold increase.

So, what are the implications for the UK? China’s rise in importance over traditional markets such as Europe means that product has been diverted away to fulfil Chinese requirements. It seems inevitable that as the Chinese market evolves, demand will increase for greater volumes and more high value product like chilled lamb leg joints. With product being diverted away from the UK and Europe, competition from the likes of New Zealand could well decline and further opportunities for UK exports will inevitably present themselves.

The Far East has already seen a significant uplift in shipments, becoming the second biggest destination by volume for UK exports. A recent trade mission to Hong Kong also highlighted how that market could evolve in the future due to its high-value food service sector.

In a broader context there are plenty of other reasons for optimism when looking at UK exports. EU sheep meat production is expected to fall by two per cent in 2014. Significantly, production in most of the UK’s key export markets is expected to decline which should present further opportunities for exports.

Key movements in EU sheep populations all point to either less competition or increased demand for UK product. While this relies on the demand side of the equation to a large extent, coupled with the growing influence of China on the global market, the outlook for UK sheep meat exports looks decidedly optimistic.
Further details on production and the outlook for export opportunities are available in the latest Cattle and Sheep Market Update