Wednesday, 24 December 2014

The ups and downs of 2014 and outlook for 2015

As this year draws to a close, it is not uncommon to start thinking about the New Year ahead – with resolutions and plans no-doubt being made – many which will be kept, some which will no doubt fall at the first hurdle. But it is important too, to use this time as an opportunity to look back and reflect on the year that is coming to an end.

That is exactly what EBLEX director, Nick Allen, has been doing recently. Nick spoke to EBLEX TV about the highs and lows of 2014, and offered an insight into what the industry can expect in 2015.

His first high point of this year was the work done on the export markets and the progress made. Hong Kong is now the second largest importer of English lamb (France is the largest), and headway is still being made on the Chinese Market (although it is not a quick process and could take a number of years). Opening up access with China would have a huge beneficial impact for English producers for two reasons.

The first is the sheer number of people living in the country, with 1.4billion in 2013 - and that figure is still growing. Not only is the population expanding, but so is the average individual wealth, meaning there are more middle-class families and budgets that can be choosy about their food, and as grass-fed English beef and lamb is seen as a quality product, it means that the appeal for our product is there. The second reason is that Chinese consumers waste very little of the carcase, so there is a financial value placed on some of the parts that would perhaps end up as waste product in the UK.

To put the Chinese appetite for meat into context, they consume 1.7million pigs every single day.

To continue the work of getting market access to China, the Agricultural and Horticultural Development Board (AHDB) have announced that they will be funding a full-time post for someone to be based in Beijing.

Nick also mentioned that some of the new initiatives launched by EBLEX in 2014 as highlights. The Better Returns Programme launched their teleconferences, which allow farmers to phone in at a set time from their farm office, kitchen or tractor and hear from industry experts. In case you missed them, the teleconferences from 2014 are available to listen again.

Market volatility. Two words which producers will be familiar with after this year, and unfortunately, they are words which are not going away. According to Nick, in order to prepare for the challenges that the industry presents, it is important to plan for businesses over three to five years rather than year-on-year.

Looking forwards, market intelligence suggests that beef will be in tighter supply next year, which could see prices moving the right way for farmers. As always, cautious optimism is called for, but it is a good place to start 2015.

In the meantime, from all at EBLEX, we wish you a very merry Christmas and a happy New Year!

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Beefing up the Christmas Menu

With the Christmas tree now up and decorated and present shopping underway, many people’s attention will be turning to their Christmas dinner menu.

Whilst turkey still takes the Christmas dinner crown, statistics suggest that a number of consumers are turning to beef this festive season, with alternatives featuring classics like beef wellington, through to modern favourites like organic ribs. According to the latest Kantar Worldpanel figures, the amount of beef purchased over the last three months has slowly been increasing in the lead up to the Christmas period.

There are growing numbers of Christmas diners who are looking for slightly more adventurous recipes to impress guests at the table. Part of the appeal of having beef on the Christmas dinner plate is that there is such a variety of ways to cook it.

To help drive consumers towards beef Denise Spencer-Walker, our resident food advisor, has put together Roasting: A Culinary Christmas Story, a collation of all her top tips and recipes for using beef as the turkey alternative. Some of the must-try dishes include festive roast beef with cranberry and red onion relish.  For those catering for smaller numbers there is the beef mini roast is coated in caraway seeds and garlic crust.

Though the culinary pinnacle of December might take place on the 25th, with all family dinners, Christmas parties and festive catch ups, the entire month is filled with good, hearty food. This is perhaps why the sale of stewing cuts has been particularly prominent, almost doubling over the last quarter, reflecting an increased demand at this time of year. Our trade marketing team has been supporting butchers in capitalising on this seasonal trend through the ‘Slowly Does It’ campaign. The most recent phase of the campaign saw the launch of the Winter Point of Sale (POS) Kit.

The POS kit is packed with useful marketing materials, designed to showcase a range of beef and lamb cuts to customers during the winter season. Materials included in the kit have been produced for use at different stages throughout the colder months.  The first part of the kit, the ‘Slowly Does It Winter Essentials’, promotes a range of added value beef and lamb cuts that are ideal for slow cooking and use in casseroles and stews.

The casserole, stewing and braising category has been one of particular focus this financial quarter. We conducted extensive product analysis and consumer research to establish what consumer attitudes are towards these types of dishes, and how they can be encouraged to regularly incorporate them into their meal repertoires.

The results of the research found that, whilst there are issues around product consistency and cooking instructions, casseroles and stews have retained their image of being tasty, hearty family dinners. The findings have been collated into a report, Casserole Revival, which is available online now.

Whatever is on the dinner table this Christmas the options are certainly meaty, and going into the New Year we will continue to capitalise on trends and consumer preferences to drive and promote beef and lamb sales.  

Thursday, 11 December 2014

Postgraduate seminar showcases young scientific talent

Developing young talent and encouraging new ways of thinking is vital in any industry and in agriculture, where the age profile is known for being high, this takes on an even greater importance.

That’s the reason why EBLEX’s research and development team supports a number of studentships each year, as part of the broader AHDB studentship programme, with the aim of making sure that the next generation of farm advisers and scientists is waiting in the wings.

Typically, three EBLEX-funded student projects are started each year, normally with a three-year funding agreement, resulting in there being nine full-time EBLEX students at any one time. Where appropriate, these are jointly funded with other divisions of AHDB or the other UK red meat levy organisations.

With the students being located all around England, opportunities for them to meet with their peers are limited, which is why the annual livestock postgraduate seminar provides a valuable opportunity for them to integrate with other students and share their progress during the previous year.

The event, which this year took place in Kenilworth on Tuesday 10th December, involved all the AHDB livestock divisions (EBLEX, BPEX and DairyCo), together with Hybu Cig Cymru (HCC) and Quality Meat Scotland (QMS).

All the students whose projects are funded (or part-funded) by those organisations have the opportunity to take part, with a total of 39 presenting over two days. The students who are in their final year are judged by a panel and the winner presented with an award for best presentation.

Among the EBLEX-funded final year students were Selin Cooper and Emma Monaghan, both from the University of Warwick, and both investigating elements of mastitis in sheep. Emma presented on how bacteria in sheep udders changes pre and post-mastitis, while Selin talked about identifying different types of bacteria.

The last EBLEX-funded final year student to present Rory Shaw, from Bangor University, who spoke for a final time on his PhD looking at the use of real-time in situ nitrogen sensors to enhance sustainability and reduce costs in livestock systems.

While these projects may seem far removed from the working life of the average beef and sheep farmer, having a healthy research pipeline is essential for EBLEX to achieve its aim of helping the beef and sheep meat supply chain become more efficient. And ensuring that some of these research projects are carried out by those just setting out on their carrier means that these efforts can continue in the years to come.

Thursday, 4 December 2014

Video proving a useful tool on the farm

In livestock farming, the word ‘viral’ normally instils fear for animal health. But in this era where the internet has seeped into every aspect of our lives, even the term ‘viral’ has gone digital.

Video has become an important internet tool, as organisations are able to share content with audiences all around the world almost instantly. Here at EBLEX we recognise how valuable this could be to farmers, and earlier this year introduced EBLEX TV, a free online channel which allows us to share video content with the industry.

Easily the most popular videos that we have produced to date are our ‘how to’ videos, which show industry experts demonstrating the best-practice methods of delivering everything from ram MOTs to body-condition scoring and preparing for lambing.

They are useful because farmers are able to watch them either just before or while they are carrying out their management tasks, and can pause, rewind or re-watch the videos as necessary.

Also popular are videos that contain industry experts delivering updates on the market and the industry. Our market intelligence senior analyst, Debbie Butcher, is a regular contributor, and EBLEX sector director Nick Allen finds it a useful way of communicating with farmers too.

The emergence of smartphones and tablets means that many people are walking around with access to EBLEX TV in their pocket, meaning the resource is rarely more than a couple of clicks away. We are aware of the issue that some farmers face with poor internet connectivity in rural areas, and have started developing a solution to that. From early 2015, a selection of the videos will be available on the EBLEX mobile app, which is free to download. Users will be able to download the videos that are relevant to them onto their phone or tablet when they are near a Wi-Fi or other internet connection, and then watch them later without the need to be online.

As farming is such a seasonal industry, much of the content on EBLEX TV reflects that, even though it is available all year round. For example, earlier this year we worked with wholecrop expert Andrew Strzelecki to produce eight videos that demonstrate how farmers can identify the right time to harvest wholecrops, including spring barley, wheat and oats. There was only a small window to get the timing right so that the contents of the crop-heads had the right texture and consistency, but the finished videos should prove useful to farmers across the country year-on-year from now on.

We welcome any suggestions for content that you may have. It could be a ‘how-to’ video that you want to see, or a story that you want to share with the farming community. Share them with us by email and we’ll get in touch.

Don’t forget to subscribe to the channel to receive notifications when new videos are added.