Wednesday, 30 December 2015

How livestock farming benefits from a scientific approach

Scientific research and how to apply it to benefit industry has always been of vital importance and the livestock sector is no exception.

Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) Chief Executive Officer Jane King reiterated this recently at the organisation’s annual Livestock PhD Seminar.

The event provided the ideal platform to highlight the significant challenges facing the livestock industry and the importance of making science practical and applicable on farm, a key part of the AHDB’s work.

It focused on communicating science to farmers and saw 33 PhD students present their research to delegates. The research is part or fully funded by AHDB and is carried out across the three livestock sectors of Dairy, Pork and Beef & Lamb. Presentations on topics including lameness, mastitis, genetics and anthelmintic resistance were well received by attendees and talks were also given by industry representatives.

Delegates heard from AHDB Pork Chairman Meryl Ward about the vital job scientists have in adding value to the livestock sector, as well as the importance of them knowing the industry and working collaboratively with it.

The emergence of antibiotic resistance was brought into focus by Professor Mike Fielder, who discussed the current void in antibiotic discovery and the importance of better detection and analysis to improve treatment. For example, work is under way with AHDB to develop a pen-side test to detect salmonella in calves.

Concluding with an afternoon of workshops delivered by AHDB staff, covering grass and forage management, calf to calving and future challenges for the pig industry, the event highlighted the breadth of AHDB expertise in adding value to the industry. It also underlined the importance of succession planning to help the livestock sector continue to meet the challenges it currently faces and those that may appear in the future.

As Kim Matthews, Head of Research of Development at AHDB Beef & Lamb, put it, “It was great to see so many enthusiastic young scientists presenting some really interesting and important work.”

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

What happened in beef and lamb in 2015?

With less than a week until the New Year, at AHDB Beef & Lamb HQ, we thought we’d take this opportunity to reflect on the outgoing year.

We ended 2014 with the announcement that the Agricultural and Horticultural Development Board (AHDB) would be co-funding a post at the British embassy in Beijing for the first UK Agriculture and Food Counsellor in China. Successful candidate Karen Morgan, former leader of Defra’s Competitive Farming team, was tasked with helping to grow food and drink exports to the country, with access for beef and lamb high on the agenda. To put the Chinese appetite for meat into context, they consume 1.7million pigs every single day. That’s a big prize!

However, our market development work for Quality Standard Mark (QSM) beef and lamb has not been limited to overseas markets this year. Our focus on the home market continues to be central to what we do, and ensuring we have a product fit for today’s consumers is central to that. Lamb continues to prove it has a part to play in shopper’s diets, especially within the halal sector.

Muslims consume around 20 per cent of all sheep meat sold in England. A raft of activity took place this year to help raise awareness amongst this group of consumers about the quality and versatility of home-grown lamb and how best to cook it. A halal facts booklet was launched in June to help understand the value of this market. Those wishing to get hard copies of the booklet were able to do so at the Eid Mela Festival in Birmingham in August, where AHDB Beef & Lamb were on hand to share lamb butchery techniques, insights into new and innovating cuts and hand out some delicious tasters.

Sheep meat production for the halal market went on to hit the small screens later that month, with AHDB Beef & Lambs’ 15-minute infomercial – ‘Farm to Fork’. Broadcast to over 136 countries, via the Islam Channel, the film highlighted the quality and traceability of product destined for the Halal market. The infomercial went on to become one of the top 10 most popular videos featured on Beef and Lamb TV – the AHDB Beef & Lamb YouTube channel.

Video content generally was big news in 2015, thanks in part to the launch of the Beef and Lamb Bitesize. The new monthly news digest, launched in February, provides viewers with the latest industry news and market information in a snappy video format. Keen to make use of smartphone and tablet technology, it also provides a platform for farmers and processors to pose questions to the AHDB Beef & Lamb team with the ‘Ask AHDB’ feature.

As our online media content continued to grow, so did our audience. In 2015 (so far!), there have been over 67,835 independent views of our YouTube channel. This translated into a huge 167,884 minutes of content being watched, with an average of seven hours watched each day.

YouTube wasn't the only beef and lamb social media channel to flourish in 2015. Our Twitter account saw its followers grow by almost 25 per cent during 2015, as nearly 2,000 more people decided to keep up to date with the latest beef and lamb news and insights. On average, each month 270 of those followers decided they wanted to share some of these insights via retweeting what they had seen, pushing our messaging out to an even wider audience.

Facebook also continued to grow in importance as a messaging channel for us, as fans of the AHDB Beef and Lamb Facebook page grew by 30 per cent, with more than 1,200 additional people liking the page. Delicious

No one can deny that 2015 was also the year of sport, with both a cricket and rugby World Cup taking place. However, it wasn’t just on the sports pitches where we came up against Australia and New Zealand. In September Team GB, backed by AHDB Beef & Lamb, flew to New Zealand to compete in the ultimate test of butchery skill, the Tri-Nations Butchers Challenge. The tightly fought contest saw Team GB pipped to the post by their Kiwi counterparts. However, the competition, now its fourth year, highlighted the skill and calibre of today’s butchers to an international audience and allowed sharing of best practice.

The year ends for AHDB Beef & Lamb with a new chairman – Warwickshire-based farmer – Adam Quinney. He is joined by new sector strategy director, Laura Ryan, who takes on the role following seven years in the trade marketing team. Their appointments mark an exciting time for the organisation, as we continue to work to our purpose of equipping levy payers with independent, evidence-based information and tools to grow and become more competitive and sustainable. We’re looking forward to 2016!

In the meantime, from all at AHDB Beef & Lamb, we wish you a very merry Christmas and a happy New Year!

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

How do we reduce the environmental impact of livestock production?

There is no doubt that livestock contribute to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. By-products of the rumen, notably methane, are expelled from both ends of sheep and cattle, float up into the air and contribute to the country’s carbon footprint.
Globally, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations (UN) has estimated that emissions from livestock account for 14.5 per cent of all global GHG emissions. This leads to cries to reduce or stop eating meat to save the planet, as well as unfavourable comparisons to emissions from transport, however counter-intuitive that may be.
What is also not in doubt is that we should work towards reducing emissions from the sector through a variety of routes, be it better animal husbandry, genetics or feed efficiency work. However, it is not right that the industry should be made (seemingly the sole) scapegoat for environmental ills with simplistic arguments about reducing meat consumption. Remember, reduced meat consumption leading to reduced livestock may reduce overall emissions, but will not improve efficiency by even 0.0001%. Reducing the number of cars on the road would not improve the efficiency of the vehicles, would it?
The carbon footprint of the industry has been brought back into focus in the last month with the COP-21 climate change talks in Paris. While livestock was not central to the main talks, it did allow pressure groups and industry detractors to take aim at us again. That’s why the International Meat Secretariat (IMS) decided to pull together an international panel of speakers at a press conference to highlight some of the positive strides being made around the world to reduce our environmental impact.
Hosted at the offices of Interbev (AHDB Beef & Lamb’s equivalent in France), the panel comprised Alexander Döring, of the European Feed Manufacturers Association (FEFAC), John Brook , of the United States Meat Export Federation (USMEF), Dave Harrison, of Beef + Lamb New Zealand, Guillaume Roué, IMS President, Jurgen Preugschas, IMS Chair of the Sustainable Meat Committee, Fernando Sampaio, of the Associação Brasileira das Indústrias Exportadoras de Carne (ABIEC), in Brazil), James Wilde (AHDB) and Bruno Dufayet, of Interbev.

Panellists in Paris highlighting how their countries are tackling the emissions challenge
Each speaker gave a brief summary of some of the key activity in their country to tackle the emissions challenge before the assembled journalists, mostly from the French agricultural press, asked questions. The session served to demonstrate the massive amount of work ongoing and the huge amount already achieved, which gets little acknowledgement generally, whilst reaffirming the countries’ commitment to reducing their respective carbon footprints.
Each country has its own story to tell. In France, Bruno talked about the sequestration value of grazed land which is increasingly being used to offset the emissions footprint, an issue which is widely ignored most of the time because the science behind literally varies from field to field, leaving many scientists unwilling to commit to numbers. Fernando talked about efforts in Brazil to combat deforestation – and the reforestation work going on. James highlighted the fact that between 1970 and 2010, emissions from beef animals in the UK were reduced by 40 per cent, as well as talking about the environmental roadmap work for beef, sheep and pigs to help drive the industry forward.
There were also some key underlying messages that all countries had in common. These were that livestock:
  • uses mainly land not suited for crops and for which there is no other productive use
  • are efficient recyclers, transforming 80% of all feed that is not edible, such as grass, biomass, crop residues and by-products, into high-value nutritious animal protein
  • produce important by-products including power, fibre, medicines, slurry for biogas, and manure to maintain soil fertility, reducing the need for synthetic fertilizers
  • are necessary for food and nutrition security as well as diversity to diets, and
  • help address the multiple challenges of malnutrition, which include wasting, stunting, obesity, and anaemia in women of reproductive age.
Guillaume Roué, president of IMS, summed it up well when he said: “We all come from different countries, with different production systems, and we are all commercial competitors. But it is important that we work together on key issues that affect us all, like greenhouse gas emissions, animal welfare and human health and nutrition.”
The challenge remains to highlight all the good work that is being done to reduce our carbon footprint while working to get a more balanced debate on emissions. Yes, livestock do emit gases, and we must continue to work to improve this further, but they are also vital to sustainable food production, make best use of available land for producing food for a growing population, aid biodiversity, and manage swathes of our land as an effective carbon sink.
It seems though that in an era of fast lifestyles, it is the speed of our change which may be our Achilles heel. After all, you can’t put a catalytic converter on a cow to reduce emissions like you can on a car, can you? Change in our sector will take time.

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Progressive groups present opportunities for beef and lamb farmers

Over the last few years, a number of forward-thinking sheep farmers and beef farmers have been meeting in their respective groups twice a year to look at ways that they can improve their businesses and develop their skills. In November, they met for the last time.

These were members of the Beef & Sheep Progressive Groups, an initiative from AHDB Beef & Lamb which has encouraged those taking part to share new ideas, learn from each other and take information back home to apply on their own farms.

Speaking to members of the sheep group at their final meeting on a farm in Aylesbury, it was clear to see that the experience has been a positive one and that friendships have formed. 

At that meeting we asked a few of the guys to summarise what it is they will take away from the group:
  •  “We meet twice a year, they’ve been good, well organized meetings where we’ve had good discussions and met good farmers.” George Fell, York
  •  “The group is a great opportunity to meet like-minded people to talk about issues you may have on your farm and ways you can correct them.” Patrick Green, Northamptonshire
  •  “I’ve taken quite a lot of technical information away from the group that I’ve tried to put in place on my own farm to improve my own flock, and I’ve also taken away some great friendships.” Adrian Beardson, West Cumbria
  •  “It’s been good just actually being together with so many like-minded people, bouncing ideas off each other.” Jamie Wilde
  • “There’s a few beers drunk at the end of the formal meetings, and that’s all part of getting to know each other in a less formal setting to find out what each other does.” James Barker, Bedford
So if the progressive groups are so beneficial, why are the members calling it a day? Well, it’s simply time to hand the baton over to a new group – and anyone interested has just under a week to get their application in.

The groups are coordinated by AHDB Beef & Lamb and they organise farm visits, provide access to industry experts and ensure various aspects of livestock production are included. Typically, these include health and fertility, nutrition and feed planning, breeding, selection for slaughter and business-management.

Anyone interested in joining will be expected to actively participate in Stocktake and have data for their enterprise collected each year, which will be used to track progress and will be discussed at group meetings.

The farmers we spoke to in Aylesbury couldn’t compliment the scheme enough. Praise indeed as they are the ones to benefit from it. As Patrick Green puts it: “If anyone is thinking about joining either of the progressive groups, I would encourage them to do it. You’ve got to put yourself out there in both awkward and enjoyable situations to benefit from the experience of so many other sheep farmers from across the country.”

To find out more, email

Thursday, 3 December 2015

What can AHDB Beef & Lamb do for you?

The diversity within the livestock sector in England is great, which makes communicating with our levy payers a constant challenge. We aim to utilise multiple channels to allow us to reach the maximum number of people to update them on what we are doing, push technical messages, pass on market information – and everything in between.

Through these routes, such as articles in the farming press, websites, events, social media, newsletters, briefings and the like, we routinely include contact details and encourage engagement with us on the issues that matter to you, where we can help most and what emerging issues are affecting you.

However, with the ongoing changes at AHDB generally, and our-rebranding from EBLEX in the summer, we have embarked on an even wider consultation with industry to hear directly from levy payers about what you want from us and where we can add most value.

The activity review meetings across England kicked off this week in Kendal, Cumbria. They continue in Cambridgeshire on December 7, York on December 8, Exeter on December 9, Cheltenham on December 15 and Hampshire on January 12. All levy payers are welcome to come along to their nearest event to have their say on what we are doing well, what needs more work and where you would like to see money spent to help you build a better business.

They are part of a wide-ranging activity review by AHDB, covering its beef and lamb, pork, dairy, potatoes, cereals and oilseeds, and horticulture sectors to encourage debate on future activity.

As AHDB chief executive Jane King said: “We want to listen to what farmers, growers and our supply chain believe will help their businesses to make the most of future opportunities and meet the longer term challenges.

“Whether this is extending our monitor farm work, funding applied research, looking at increased market development, or pooling resources to attract additional funding from external sources, we need the input from our levy payers to support our sector boards in their strategy decisions.”

We have done our best to ensure there is a spread of meetings around the country so there is one near(ish) to you, but we are limited to the number we can do and the time of day they can be done. We are sorry if there is not one that is convenient for you. However, there is a quick online survey to capture your views.

Feedback will be collated and shared with AHDB’s sector boards to help inform their discussions, as part of the business planning process, on where resource should be focused and what will deliver most impact for levy payers.

We will continue to communicate with you through all the channels we can and we welcome your feedback. A two-way dialogue is the best way to ensure we are driving the industry forward together.