Thursday, 27 November 2014

A simple but effective approach to scab

There were many inspiring speakers at this year's Sheep Health and Welfare Conference all discussing safety in terms of disease.
The Sheep Health and Welfare Group (SHAWG), which ran the event, meet collaboratively to address relevant sheep-related health and welfare issues. Defra and AHVLA use SHAWG to discuss proposed initiatives and provide feedback on surveillance related matters, documentation and programmes that (potentially) have an impact at farm level.
There was plenty of stimulating discussion throughout the day and the last speaker, Joe Henry, was really interesting. He discussed how the approach his veterinary practice has taken with regard to scab has been successful in terms of control.
Joe practices in Northumberland, a large sheep production area, and the problem of scab in the region was a common one. Regular re-infection is costly for farmers, but when it is a disease that can be successfully treated, it is unnecessary.

With that in mind, Joe’s practice developed a five-stage approach that minimised the risk of re-infection.
The five staged approach is pretty simple…
  • Veterinary diagnosis– this is an absolute must to ensure the right condition is being treated
  • Tell all neighbours– they will be affected by your disease status and need to be involved in the treatment programme
  • Have a meeting –all neighbours are invited together with the vets to discuss the plan for treatment
  • Appoint a chairman– this is always a farmer, they will take control of the coordination of treatment
  • Co-ordinate treatment– all treatment of all sheep must take place within a two week window
The secret of the initiative’s success was in ensuring the local farming community worked together to combat any outbreak of scab. By treating not just the infected farm’s flock, but the surrounding flocks as well, the path to further spread is stopped.
In order for the plan to be successful all farmers must engage and to date Joe’s never had a farmer refuse to treat their flock.
And the way his team go about organising it is the key to the project’s success.
Once a farmer reports an incidence of scab to the vet, all neighbouring farmers are invited to a meeting at the local village hall, for them all to sit together and discuss the situation and the impact of further spread.
Joe highlights the importance of killing every single mite, outlines the cost of disease and re-infection and also the treatment options available.
A farmer is elected as the chairperson so that someone who knows the local area is assigned to take responsibility for the implementation of the treatment plan. In order to be effective every farmer must treat all of their sheep within a two-week window. If treatment occurs outside this window or it is not administered properly there is potential for re-infection and the whole process would have to be repeated.
Nothing about this plan is complex, but it works.
It has been carried out for every case of scab the practice has encountered, and they’ve seen the incidence of it drop considerably.
From being an endemic on their patch it is now an occasional problem, mainly thanks to a few feral sheep.
The initiative is an example of how the farming community can work together to tackle a problem head-on and everyone at the conference was pretty impressed.
As Joe said, it’s a no-brainer!

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Why the China prize adds up for beef and lamb

China is all about big numbers. The population is 1.357 billion (2013 figures). 20.7 million are estimated to live in Beijing. In the capital’s largest residential district live more than seven million people. Getting the Metro from there into the city in rush hour, it will take you 40 minutes to queue to get on a packed train – despite the fact they arrive at a rate of one per minute.

Each year in China, 32 million people give up farming and become consumers – and this means more and more people are moving into the middle class, categorised as those spending $10 a day or more. This may not sound like much, but it in terms of additional purchasing power, it is massive. And the wealthier people become, the more they indulge more expensive tastes, including meat. Specifically, beef and lamb, including the fifth quarter. These cuts may seem to be the cheap ones to us, but they are more highly regarded in the Far East meaning that as standards of living rises, so does the demand for fifth quarter products.
There has been a lot of talk about access to the Chinese market for English beef and lamb for some time now. It was the topic of a presentation, for discussion and for a levy payer question at our recent annual conference. Access remains some way off – but it essential we continue working towards it and driving things forward. It will bring rewards for each and every beef and lamb producer and processor.

There was evidence of just how there demand is growing for our products at the FHC China event, in Shanghai, last week. The AHDB red meat export team helped organise a stand for red meat traders and exporters and, while the actual business being done was on pig meat products, there were repeated questions about when beef and lamb would be available and what more can we do to make it happen. The demand is clearly there, as if this needed any validation.

As early as 2003, BPEX identified the Chinese market as offering significant opportunities for export growth. Negotiations with China started in earnest in 2005. An inspection visit to the UK took place in 2009 and trade finally opened in 2011. This market has now become invaluable to the pig sector. Traders estimate the added value of the Chinese market is between 20p and 40p per kilo for pig meat. It is well on its way to being worth £50 million a year to the English pig sector.

We cannot make direct comparisons with pig meat because market dynamics are different but the trend is the same: with market access to China we will be able to sell parts of beef cattle and sheep we have no domestic market for to a growing consumer population with a rising appetite for beef and lamb products. As the standard of living rises, people are trading up from cheaper chicken and pork products to beef and lamb, and it is the fifth quarter products that potentially hold greater value there than the cuts we would purchase.

Of course, negotiations inevitably have both a technical and political dimension and this always has to be factored into the time it takes to reach agreements. This is true for all the markets we deal with and China is no different.
The process itself is slow anyway, and high level diplomatic support from the UK Government continues to be vital. However, the investment is worth it for all parties concerned and will ultimately lead to betters returns for processors and producers.

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Online opportunities for beef and lamb sales

In recent years the way we shop has been transformed as retailers continue to develop new ways of offering convenience to consumers. This has had an effect on most products, including beef and lamb.

In 2012, Brits were the biggest online shoppers in the developed world, with six out of ten adults shopping online. The ‘weekly big shop’, a staple part of many a household routine for years, has been replaced by home deliveries and the emergence of supermarket express stores, which encourage buying little and often.

Earlier this year, the EBLEX trade marketing team commissioned a survey which found that turnover from online ordering from butchers is expected to rise by 275% in five years – yet only one in three butcher’s shops has a company website, and only a quarter of those have an online ordering facility. This presents a huge opportunity for forward-thinking butchers, but not everyone agrees that ordering meat online is what consumers want.

At the EBLEX 2014 annual conference, which took place recently, Waitrose’s agricultural manager, Duncan Sinclair, said that although the potential and appetite for online shopping was huge, many consumers still prefer to see and feel the meat that they want to eat before buying it. Many butchers will agree that this hands-on shopping experience is valued by their customers, but new buying experiences are continuing to surface.

Waitrose agricultural manager, Duncan Sinclair, at the 2014 annual conference
One example is the flash sale, an online trend which emerged in France but is fast making waves over here. The format is simple; consumers sign up to become members of a private buying club, and in doing so are eligible to buy goods on offer from the flash sale website. These goods are usually designer, high-end products and brands that are hugely discounted for the purposes of the sale. The brands are happy to provide their goods because only the private members get to see the discounted prices. This means that the sale prices are not splashed all over the internet, avoiding any damage to the reputation of these high-end brands.

Although initially this format was used for clothes and household goods, traders are experimenting with food items too. One of the biggest flash sale websites in France is Vente PrivĂ©e, which translates literally as ‘private sale’ and has an impressive eighteen million members across eight European countries. The EBLEX French office is working with them to look at options for getting English beef and lamb out to the wider French market through that vehicle.

Regardless of how people buy, it is important that producers continue to offer a product that will appeal to consumers and fits the target market specification. EBLEX national selection specialist, Steve Powdrill, recently touched on this in a video about the impact of over-fat lambs (below). He highlighted the point that if people have a bad dining experience with lamb, such as ending up with a lot of  fat on their plate, then they’re not likely to buy it next time they are shopping for their groceries – however they choose to do it. It is only by producing the best meat we can and utilising a wide range of marketing channels that we can work to improve sustainability of the beef and sheep meat supply chains.    

Thursday, 6 November 2014

EBLEX Annual Conference focuses on responding to volatility

Dealing with volatility and putting the customer first were two of the overriding themes of the EBLEX Annual Conference, which took place at Stoneleigh Park on Tuesday (4th November).

A full house at the EBLEX Annual Conference
The inspiring and thought-provoking event, which attracted around 200 producers and representatives of the beef and lamb supply chain from around the country, saw a range of speakers address the audience with some uncompromising messages around how to minimise the impact of volatility and make the most of current opportunities.

After an introduction from EBLEX chairman John Cross, Waitrose agriculture manager Duncan Sinclair took to the podium and spoke about the retailer perspective on current market conditions.

His messages around the value of integrated supply chains and his honest appraisal of what is (and isn’t) working for the retailer provided an interesting insight. Of note was the huge rise in internet sales experienced by Waitrose, up 40 per cent in 2013, a phenomenon which the red meat sector can’t afford to ignore (and the fact that they give away one million cups of coffee a week to loyalty card holders!).

Michael Sondergaard took examples from the pig industry
Duncan was followed by Michael Sondergaard, supply chain director for Tulip, who presented on the impact of China. While access to this market is not yet a reality for the UK beef and sheep industry, Michael’s presentation gave a practical overview of how to trade with China and took examples from the pig industry to illustrate the value of the potential prize. The audience were stunned by the figure that every hour, all year round, two container-loads of pork are being sent to China by Danish Crown alone.

The final speaker for the morning session was Allan Wilkinson, HSBC’s head of agriculture. Looking at the beef industry in the context of the wider global picture, Allan gave some very pertinent advice on how farm businesses can improve their performance and ensure they’re able to survive the rollercoaster of volatility.

The morning question and answer panel
The morning session was rounded off with a question and answer panel, after which delegates got to taste the beef and lamb mini roasts which are at the heart of EBLEX’s autumn marketing campaign.

The first presentation of the afternoon was from Dunbia’s head of agriculture, Jonathan Birnie, who looking at the importance of improving relationships in farming. Citing examples from his travels as a Nuffield scholar, Jonathan succinctly explained how to go about implementing change within a farm business.
The key take out from his presentation was that improving performance isn’t rocket science, it’s rather the aggregation of lots of small details.

Representing the final link of the supply chain, beef farmer and EBLEX board member James Evans then talked about how he’s made changes on his own farm to ensure they are better equipped to meet the demands of the market.

 EBLEX director Nick Allen then addressed delegates, giving an outlook for the sector and summarising what had been heard during the day. With similar themes resonating throughout many of the presentations, Nick summed up the key message by saying there’s no silver bullet to prevent volatility – we have to look at how we can make a difference within our individual businesses and work together as an industry.

EBLEX chairman John Cross addressing the audience
Following another question and answer session, John Cross gave his closing remarks for the final time as EBLEX chairman before he stands down next March. Giving his thoughts on the mix of volatility and global opportunity, he stated that knowledge is key and concluded that we're now working in a much wider world which offers great opportunities for those who seek them.

Those who attended the event certainly left with plenty of food for thought and practical ideas that can be implemented in their own businesses. Those who weren’t able to make it can get a flavour of the day by viewing the presentations and the videos that are now available online.