Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Why industry events are so useful for the farming community

A core part of EBLEX’s work is sharing knowledge and information with levy payers and the wider farming community, and industry events provide an ideal platform for doing this.

Last week, Beef Expo 2015 took place at York Auction Centre and the EBLEX team was there to share the latest information with visitors. The centrepiece of the stand was Rufe, a South Devonshire cow that was painted in bright colours to illustrate where various cuts of meats come from.

As well as being a huge talking point, Rufe played an important part in helping people understand better how meat is processed. This was particularly useful for the youngsters in attendance, in particular one group of children who were on an educational tour of the show. 

After meeting Rufe they enjoyed a butchery demonstration from EBLEX’s master butcher, Martin Eccles, who demonstrated new cuts that are being promoted and explained why it is important to maximise carcase utilisation.

The stand was busy all day with farmers soaking up the information on offer. This included soil samples and grassland management expertise from the British Grassland Society, carcase classification examples on our cool wall, a vet demonstrating liver fluke (complete with a large infected cattle liver!), genetics information and more. EBLEX staff were also on hand to field general questions.

Our stand was also the starting point for the Future Farmer competition, an opportunity for youngsters to pit their farming wits against peers in categories such as genetics, feed, bio security and conformation. A total of 12 teams entered the competition, with Askham Bryan and Bishop Burton colleges well represented.

The competition was run in association with the Charolais Cattle Society, XL Vets and Thompsons of York and aimed to encourage the next generation of progressive beef farmers.

The EBLEX stand at Beef Expo 2015 also saw what must surely be a record number of ‘selfie’ photos being taken, thanks to a famous face that stopped by. Adam Henson of BBC’s Countryfile was, like many other visitors, intrigued by Rufe and once he had posed for photographs with fans, made sure he had his photo taken with the colourful cow. 


He also talked at length with EBLEX representatives about the work being done for the industry, and spoke to EBLEX TV about the levy board’s presence at the show.

The feedback from Beef Expo has been favourable, and we’ll take that forward into other planned shows.

Next up is the National Sheep Association’s North Sheep and Sheep South West events in Cumbria and North Tawton respectively, where once again we will offer a range of demonstrations and resources. We hope to see you there!

Friday, 22 May 2015

Offering convenience to farmers through the Herd Management Calendar

There are an awful lot of things a farmer needs to remember, from vaccinations, to BPS forms, to forward buying feed.

It’s exhausting just thinking about it. So last year the EBLEX BRP Flock Management Calendar was developed for sheep producers to use; they simply had to enter in their lambing date or tupping date to get a weekly reminder of tasks that were due.

Following the success of this resource, a brand new one for beef farmers has been produced – the Herd Management Calendar. And it was launched this week at Beef Expo.

It’s very easy and free for farmers to use. The key production tasks are set by entering either a calving or service date. Users are then emailed a reminder of key tasks to help herd management.

There are an array of pre-set tasks and producers can add in their own bespoke items into the calendar; this might be to record when a task was completed or an extra job. Reminder emails are sent every Sunday, with details of up-and-coming tasks, although producers can unsubscribe from these emails at any time if they want to.

An unlimited number of groups with different calving or service dates (spring calving, autumn calving etc) can be added, which makes the calendar ideal for every size of herd and an array of different production systems. And when a group is added, it creates a specific calendar linked to calving or service date.

The aim of the Herd Management Calendar is to offer convenience to farmers, as we recognise the need for it in an industry where there is so much to think about seven days a week. In fact, convenience is the key factor in a lot of the resources that EBLEX have made available.

There is the EBLEX mobile app, which is essentially a condensed version of the website that offers the latest market prices, BRP publications, news, events and video content at the touch of a button. We recognised that rural internet connections can be poor, so have developed the app so that it can work offline.

There are also our teleconferences, which enable farmers to phone in and hear expert advice from carefully selected industry representatives. We know it’s not always practical to leave the farm to and get to one of our meetings, and the teleconferences mean that producers can call from their office, kitchen or even tractor!

So convenience is king, and the calendars are the latest testament to this. There has been some great feedback from the producers that have already used them so far. So why not take a look and sign up, it’s a useful tool, simple to use and best of all, free!

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

How does EBLEX help the beef and lamb sector?

A question often levelled at us is ‘what exactly does EBLEX do for the industry?’ A perfectly valid question, granted, but when you stop to think about it, we actually deliver a vast amount of work to support the sector in a number of ways. To elaborate, it’s probably best to look at the stats.

Perhaps the best place to start is at the grass roots with our
Better Returns Programme (BRP) skills and knowledge transfer work through direct communication with livestock producers. The programme encourages producers to evaluate their businesses and look at where improvements can be made.

In 2014/15 BRP coordinated 312 events, with 69 per cent of attendees making a change as a result of attending and satisfaction ratings were way over 90 per cent.

Last year our regional team also worked with other
Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) sectors in a successful bid for RDPE Skills funding under the Animal Health and Welfare contract. The RDPE funds enabled us to deliver 39 training events to over 1,300 farmers.

On the supply chain side, we recently ran our first ‘Meat Quality Masterclass’, delivered to 15 representatives from a number of large processors and food service companies, which was very well-received and has prompted further classes to be scheduled for later this year.

For those who can’t make it to an event, the advent of the EBLEX Mobile app, available via the
app store on itunes or Google Play for android has enabled levy payers to access relevant ‘how-to’ videos on the go. These plus videos relating to the latest news can be accessed through the app, which has been downloaded nearly 2,000 times. Last year we also gave a dedicated push to our Youtube channel, generating 52,523 video views in a 12-month period.

Recently we’ve been helping levy payers celebrate their successes through the
Excellence in Steak Awards 2015 which were held in April. To give them some context, the multiple retailer who won best burger at last year’s awards saw an uplift in sales of that product of 46 per cent, while the independent winner last year saw a 600 per cent sales increase. On the consumer marketing side, we ran a dedicated TV advertising campaign to promote mini roasts last autumn, supported by social media activity.

Outside of the UK, more than 60 non-EU export markets for beef and lamb have been opened since a dedicated push on this began in August 2010. Our export team continues to work with the industry to maximise the potential in existing export markets and develop new ones through a dedicated programme of trade missions and ensuring our presence at major international trade shows. Most recently this has included
HOFEX in Hong Kong, SIAL in China and TuttoFood in Milan.

These statistics merely scratch the surface of how EBLEX is adding value to the industry and delivering a real return on investment on multiple levels.

Further information about EBLEX and what we do please visit our website

Friday, 8 May 2015

Eating meat and caring for the environment

Meat eating has long been demonised in some quarters for playing a pivotal role in destroying the planet, but has recently found an unlikely champion known the world over.

Recent reports on billionaire Bill Gates’ latest blog highlighted his defence of meat eating, suggesting that, yes, you can eat meat and still care for the planet.

The beef and lamb sector is all too often criticised for its negative environmental impact, but Mr Gates’ suggested that some environmental impacts of meat may well have been overstated. A case in point is water usage, with some industry detractors claiming it takes thousands of litres of water to produce a kilo of beef.

We’ve said it before, but it’s worth highlighting again that criticism of water usage in beef production is often based on global figures, with UK production aligned with other production systems from around the world. This presents a slightly skewed picture. The UK’s rain-fed pasture system means we have one of the most efficient production systems in the world, requiring just 67 litres of water to produce 1kg of beef. This is highlighted in the second part of our environmental roadmap, Testing the Water.

And then, of course, there are the other positive environmental benefits that grazing livestock in the UK bring to the table. A little under 65 per cent of our farmland is only suitable for growing grass to feed ruminants. Not only does that make the best use of the available land, but enables some of our most cherished landscapes to be maintained. Again this is illustrated in our 2011 report Landscapes without Livestock.

Interestingly, Bill Gates’ blog came hot on the heels of WWF claiming that chicken production was far worse for the environment than beef, also citing studies that suggested people in the UK were eating the right amount of red meat. Whilst the emphasis shouldn’t be on finger pointing as to which sector is more or less environmentally friendly than another, the latest WWF comments are encouraging, acknowledging UK beef production’s environmental credentials, but also domestic consumption of red meat.

Of course, more work can be done to mitigate the environmental impact of beef and sheep meat production and EBLEX will continue to work with industry to address this. In the meantime, however, it seems the message about beef and sheep meat’s positive environmental benefits could at last be resonating with a wider audience which is welcome news indeed.

More information on EBLEX’s three-part environmental roadmap can be found in the corporate publications section of the EBLEX website.