Wednesday, 28 December 2016

A look back at AHDB Beef & Lamb 2016....

As we near the end of an eventful year, we’ve taken the opportunity to showcase AHDB Beef & Lamb’s “best bits” from 2016 and take a look forward to 2017.

The year began with incoming Sector Strategy Director, Laura Ryan, starting her first full year in her new role by outlining her aspirations for the year.
Laura emphasised the significance of the consumer as she highlighted supply chain efficiency, increased market opportunities and quality assurance as areas of focus for the year ahead.

Later that month, it was standing room only as representatives of AHDB Beef & Lamb and the NFU got together for the first Northern Beef & Sheep Conference in several years in North Yorkshire. High-profile guest speakers joined representatives from the NFU and AHDB to discuss the challenges facing the industry.

Given the pressures on the farmgate price, encouraging sales of beef and lamb dominated this session. Laura Ryan talked in depth about the work currently being done to improve product consistency and outlined some new product development initiatives.
In March, AHDB was the only overseas livestock exhibitor at Europe’s biggest agricultural event, the Salon International d’Agriculture (SIA) in Paris. France represents 50% of the export market for UK lamb, making it our single most important export market for sheep meat.

The event was a great opportunity for AHDB Beef & Lamb to reaffirm its place as a key supplier to the French market.

On the other side of the Channel, Great British Beef Week, which takes place every year around St George’s day (23rd April), is a regular date in our calendar. The event, which was thought up by the Ladies in Beef, has been running since 2011. This year, AHDB Beef & Lamb supported the week with the “Beef up your Butty” campaign, designed to encourage consumers to experiment with their roast beef leftovers.

The Brexit vote dominated the news in June and our annual Meat Export Conference on 29 June gave us the opportunity to start the dialogue on how to maximise opportunities in the new political landscape. More than 100 delegates heard about developments in international markets and implications for the meat trade in the wake of the UK’s Brexit vote.

Love Lamb week lit up September. The campaign, which was developed by Yorkshire sheep farmer Rachel Lumley, is a great opportunity for the whole industry to get involved and help consumers understand that lamb is versatile, tasty and easy-to-cook, as well as educating people about our sheep production systems.

September also marked a key milestone for our RamCompare project, as we began to see the first results from the industry scheme which aims to drive forward genetic improvement in the sheep industry. Early analysis has shown a pleasing amount of variation, with some sires excelling and progeny growing quickly.

Our popular mini roast adverts returned to the small screen for the third year in October. For 2016, the focus was on young couples, aged 25 to 34, using online activity, press advertising and PR to persuade them to try the mini roast as the perfect date-night meal, enabling them to spend quality time together during the week.

As 2016 drew to a close we were looking to the future, as our new three-year corporate strategy was put out to consultation at the beginning of December. The strategy, entitled ‘Inspiring Success’, maps out the long-term areas of focus for the English beef and lamb sector. These address the specific challenges arising from the need for a more consistent product to meet changing consumer demands.

Key stakeholders found out more about the strategy and heard from some inspiring speakers at our Stakeholder Seminar on 8 December. The event included presentations from David Wagstaff of the Happy Egg Company, who gave an insight into creating an award-winning brand, and Paul Clayton from the US Meat Export Federation, who gave a global view of the beef trade from the US perspective.

Hopefully that gives you a flavour of what we’ve been doing in the last 12 months – you can find plenty more information on all of our projects and events on our website.

We hope you have a Merry Christmas. We’ll be back in January for what will certainly be another busy year!

Wednesday, 21 December 2016

An insight into the 21st World Meat Conference in Uruguay

I attended the 21st World Meat Conference which was held in Uruguay in November, it was a great opportunity to hear from meat experts from across the globe.

Getting an insight into Uruguay and its meat industry also proved extremely beneficial. Beef production is a way of life and nationals eat around 57kg per person per year, this compares to the UK’s consumption of around 18kg per person per year.

Uruguayan cattle mainly consist of Hereford and Angus breeds, all of which are primarily grass-fed and produce consistent, high-quality beef.

Despite their high domestic consumption, exports remain a key focus, with 45 per cent of home-grown beef heading to China and plans to expand further on to the Japanese market.

Sheep numbers stand at approximately seven million. Interestingly, the sheep kill appears very volatile, with a range of one to two million per annum in the recent past. The reasons for such disparate supply include stock theft, predation and the fact that sheep are viewed as a short-term investment rather than a long-term operation.

Key challenges for both their sheep and beef markets include maintaining and growing livestock numbers as well as reducing international tariff barriers. In the UK we have fragmented breeding flock and herds that limit producers' ability to improve their competitiveness.

At the same time, changes in the consumer’s habits mean demand for traditional beef and lamb cuts are falling, affecting all parts of the supply chain. In light of Brexit we face a somewhat uncertain future and will have to look to other countries, outside of the EU, to discover new ways of trading.

First on the agenda was the International Meat Secretariat (IMS) Marketing Workshop, which provided an opportunity for each country to present key projects from their home market. There were 45 delegates, representing 11 countries.

Topics covered included education, positioning our industry and storytelling. There were some extremely impactful ideas, for example Beef and Lamb New Zealand told the conference how they were teaching consumers to cook beef and lamb with a free magazine – to date 335,000 copies have been distributed.

Our head of marketing, Nick White, presented "Keema: one recipe, ten dishes", which has been one of our key consumer marketing campaigns for 2016. The initiative aims to introduce consumers to lamb mince, with the view that once they became confident with cooking the mince using different flavours they would go on to cook with other cuts of lamb.

I presented during the ‘Positioning our Industry’ part of the day and talked about encouraging women into the meat industry and the great career opportunities it can bring. In 2015 I set up ‘Meat Business Women’ a professional networking group for women working in the meat industry.

The second part of the workshop was dedicated to three challenging areas for the meat sector – health and nutrition, sustainability and animal welfare. We broke into three groups, each discussing one of the topics and looking at how negative messages can be switched to being positive. For example, when there is negative publicity about the consumption of red meat, there is an opportunity to counteract these claims with positive health messages about the nutritional value of meat.

Following on from the marketing workshop, the main World Meat Conference (WMC) was attended by 750 delegates from 38 countries, representing commercial companies, trade associations and levy boards. Various meat committees met and talked about their experience of current factors affecting meat production including governance, consumer attitudes, sustainability and global trends.

Overall, attending the workshop and conference gave me the opportunity to extensively network with key contacts and helped me understand where we fit in terms of the global meat marketplace. I found it a fascinating experience and now have more of an understanding of how we can work with others in a global marketplace.

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Serving the industry through the AHDB Beef & Lamb Board

Next April will mark the end of my tenure as a member of the AHDB Beef & Lamb board, which sadly means it will soon be time to hand over the reins to someone new. My six years as a board member (two full terms) have given me the opportunity to play a part in shaping the direction of AHDB Beef & Lamb during a time of great change for the organisation and has also given me further insight into areas of the beef and lamb industry that I wasn’t so familiar with before.

The AHDB Beef & Lamb board meets regularly throughout the year to discuss a varied agenda and make decisions on strategic direction. At recent board meetings we have discussed the organisation’s new draft three-year strategy, consumer research to help inform what we produce, a variety of technical projects and the issues surrounding Brexit – you can get a flavour of what’s discussed by watching the board summary videos on our YouTube channel.

As one of the processor representatives on the board, I believe I’ve been able to give this part of the industry a voice when important decisions need to be made. AHDB Beef & Lamb works on behalf of the whole supply chain, therefore it’s important that the board consists of a representative mix of farmers and processors.

Some of the key projects I have been most proud of during my tenure have included improving our engagement with the multiple retailers and also several projects which aim to improve the use of on-farm data. I am about to be involved in organising some workshops to brainstorm future business models with our technical team.
I am writing this blog to encourage other processors to apply for the role, as it has given me some great opportunities to work with some passionate and motivated people who all have the same goal – to benefit the English beef and sheep industry.

The lessons I have learned from being on the board have not only helped me to reflect on my own organisation, but also enabled me to voice my opinion on key issues that have important repercussions, not just for this industry, but also for society more broadly.

Good luck with your applications!

For more information on the appointment and selection process please visit

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Communicating carbon reduction schemes to farmers, busting preconceptions, driving efficiency and profit

Becky Willson works as a project officer for the Farm Carbon Cutting Toolkit (FCCT), a farmer-led organisation which aims to provide practical advice and tools for farmers, focusing on greenhouse gas emissions, energy resilience and sustainable farming methods. As well as working for the FCCT, she also works for Duchy College Rural Business School as a specialist in resource management, translating research and developing tools and advice for farmers around managing their soils, manures, nutrients and water. 

This year, I have been lucky enough to have been awarded a Nuffield scholarship, which gives me an opportunity to spend 18 months travelling and studying in depth on a topic which I am passionate about and that could potentially help to transform our industry for the future.  My topic, which is intimately connected to what I do as a day job, is all about how we communicate carbon reduction schemes to farmers.  My research is exploring two main questions:

1.    How do we effectively communicate the benefits to the farm business of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and get farmers interested and engaged in emissions reductions?
2.   What can we learn from other countries about implementing an effective emissions reductions strategy that will inspire farmers to want to participate?

This journey will take me on a global tour and allow me to meet farmers, other people like me involved in running projects, research groups, organisations, government representatives and others to try and understand in more detail what we need to do to create genuinely sustainable farming systems that are profitable and resilient – and crucially how to involve farmers in this process so that theory leads to on the ground practical action.

As I highlighted earlier, this topic is very closely connected to what I already do with farmers in my day job.  I spend a lot of time talking, writing and trying to engage with farmers about the business benefits of reducing emissions from farms, and how this can be made possible at a practical level.  However, it is not a subject which excites most farmers and as such dissemination is a problem.  As an organisation, we can organise events, write articles, run campaigns on social media, and develop carbon footprinting calculators, factsheets and case studies. The material can all be based on cutting-edge science and of excellent quality, but if farmers aren’t interested or don’t view it as relevant to their business and, as such, don’t engage, we won’t achieve our goal and the problems remain.

We can’t get away from the fact that, however optimistic we are, we won’t ever engage with 100 per cent of farmers.  But we can try and increase the numbers of people who do engage by communicating the issues in ways that demonstrate their relevance to mainstream business viability rather than being a ‘nice extra’. It seems to me that the challenge of effective communication will involve multiple approaches: effective marketing (do we communicate a carbon reduction ‘by stealth?’ – e.g. promoting it as a cost-cutting measure), clear translation of science and its application in the field and the development of robust accounting methodologies that are grounded in science, are easy to use and have practical worth.

So what now?

Over the next year I will be travelling around the world to look at this issue in more detail.  At the moment, I am planning on travelling to Australia and New Zealand to look at some of their research and farmer projects – these include Young Carbon Farmers, the Future Beef project and Farm 300.  I am also planning a trip to the U.S. to look at their Climate Hub Model and some of their extension practices. 

I have been to Scotland to look at their Farming for a Better Climate initiative, which works with farmers over three years to help reduce their carbon footprint and assess the business benefits of doing so, as well as seeing the Cool Farm tool developers and their research. This trip was a real eye opener - a highlight was attending an event, “Driving Efficiencies in Suckler Cows and Breeding Ewes”, which aimed to help famers in difficult economic times focus on improving output by concentrating on critical efficiency factors. Although this was run by the Climate initiative it attracted 120 farmers, some of whom had travelled over 100 miles! 

I am also planning to go to Ireland to find out more about their green marketing and quality assurance that they are promoting through Origin Green and the use of the Carbon Navigator with Irish farmers. Other visits in Europe are in the pipeline and I don’t want to miss anything out.

I will be blogging about my findings through the Beef and Lamb Matters blog.

Thursday, 29 September 2016

RamCompare Update

RamCompare is an innovative project which aims to enable the UK sheep industry to drive genetic improvement forward through the inclusion of commercial data in genetic evaluations. Partners from right along the supply chain are involved and extensive data recording, from birth to slaughter, is being carried out over a two-year period. Bridget Lloyd, RamCompare project co-ordinator, gives an update on how the project is getting on.

It has been a busy yet successful year so far for RamCompare and that’s set to continue as we enter into the second breeding season.
This spring we had a bumper crop of lambs, with over 3,600 born from 39 different sires across the six project farms. Growth has been closely monitored in the following months, with the collection of birth, eight week, 90 day and sale weights. A huge amount of data has been generated which is currently being entered into the Signet Breeding Services database. Initial analysis will take place over the autumn and winter months and so far we are really pleased with the results coming through.

Lambs have been selected for slaughter fortnightly since May and have been processed through either Dunbia or Randall Parker Foods, as part of Sainsbury’s Producer Group. This activity will be drawing to a close soon, with the last group of lambs being processed in November. Saleable meat yield data has been collected from a proportion of female lambs in each sire group and further tenderness testing will now start on loins from this subgroup.
In other news, the second breeding season has begun and we have some great rams joining the project this year. All have estimated breeding values (EBVs) in the top 20 per cent for their breed and provide variety to rams already on test. 24 new, natural service sires have been selected with four placed on each of the six RamCompare farms. These sires will work alongside some of the rams selected last year who will be used for a second season to provide linkage between the years.

A further five rams have been chosen for artificial insemination (AI) and they complement those selected last year, many of whom will be used again this season. Details of all the rams can be found on the Signet website.
A total of 68 rams will be tested over the duration of the project and full analysis of results will be made available from November 2017. Top 25 lists will be produced for rams on test for eight-week weight, scan weight, muscle depth and fat depth EBVs. From the results, new EBVs will be developed for days to slaughter and carcase value and these lists of rams will be published in November 2017. 

If you are interested in an update of the project and seeing some of the rams at work, we are holding an event at Thistleyhaugh Farm, on Wednesday 3 November 2016 in Long Horsley, Northumberland and it would be great to see you there. For more information, email or ring the events office on 01904 771211.

Finally, we have a great opportunity for pedigree producers to access semen from some of our RamCompare sires. The aim is to build genetic linkages between Signet recorded flocks and the RamCompare project. The semen is available free of charge, conditions apply. For more information email

More information on the project and our trial farms can be found on the Signet website.

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

September signals Love Lamb Week

Love Lamb Week (1-7 September) is just around the corner and it’s our opportunity to really get the public interested and excited about eating lamb as well as understanding how it’s produced.

The campaign was first launched in 2015 by Cumbrian sheep farmer Rachel Lumley, who is behind the @LoveBritishLamb Twitter account, and is timed to coincide with the peak production season for home-produced lamb. The campaign is a great opportunity for the whole sheep industry to get involved and encourage consumers to understand how versatile, tasty and easy it is to cook with lamb, as well as educating people about our sheep production systems.

Together with the National Sheep Association (NSA), their Next Generation Ambassadors and Rachel, we really want to drive awareness, tell people about the nutritional benefits of lamb, and ultimately grow consumer demand for sheep meat. We’re encouraging those in the industry to do whatever they can to support the week, be it be hosting events, highlighting Love Lamb Week to local farm shops, butchers, pubs and restaurants, or simply getting behind the campaign on social media using #LoveLambWeek.

We have created a range of resources in support of the campaign, from leaflets through to specially designed recipes, which can be downloaded or ordered from our website. A whole collection of lamb recipes are available on our consumer-facing site.

Love Lamb Week will also mark the start of our large-scale lamb keema campaign, which aims to encourage consumers to include lamb mince on their weekly menu through a simple, multi-purpose keema recipe. Keema is a spiced lamb mince dish which can be eaten with pasta, rice, potatoes or stuffed in a pitta, or even sprinkled on salads. With endless options, it’s the perfect way to drive consumer interest and understanding of lamb, with the scope to then encourage them to try alternative cuts.

The campaign aims to inform Britain’s parents about keema as the perfect family meal for the back-to-school period by offering sage advice from our Keema Nans, women who have raised families on keema and are successful cooks themselves. Working with Pervin Todiwala the wife and business partner of Cyrus Todiwala and an eminent chef in her own right, and Mamta Gupta, a blogger and author, AHDB will be hosting a radio day with our ambassadors, sharing keema recipes.

The success of Love Lamb Week 2016 really does depend on the whole sheep industry getting behind it and showing their support - let’s make sure we deliver the best Love Lamb Week we can!

For more information on both campaigns, visit our website.

Wednesday, 11 May 2016

Meat and Ageing: The Facts

Meat and health continues to be a high profile topic in the media. Red and processed meat can be an easy target and, in recent weeks, there have been a number of TV programmes focusing on perceived negatives rather than the positive nutritional role meat clan play in the diet.

Meat and ageing was one of the latest scare stories to hit the press. In our blog this week, we are highlighting an examination of the facts by Dr Carrie Ruxton, of the Meat Advisory Panel, as she sets the record straight.

A new study published in the journal, Ageing, has claimed that eating meat frequently could be linked with an increase in blood phosphate levels that contributes to faster ageing of body cells. Here, we unpick the evidence.

The study measured blood phosphate levels in 666 adults recruited from Glasgow. Participants estimated their own dietary intakes by filling out a 21-category food frequency questionnaire which asked whether they tended to eat certain foods daily, weekly or monthly. No portion sizes were recorded.

The researchers then correlated blood phosphate levels with markers of biological ageing including telomere length (a measure of cell ageing), inflammation, and DNA hypomethylation (a marker of DNA abnormalities). Higher phosphate levels in the blood were statistically associated with worse cell ageing.

Commenting on the study, Dr Carrie Ruxton, from the Meat Advisory Panel notes:

“The conclusion of this study – that eating red meat is somehow to blame for faster ageing – bears no relation to the evidence the researchers actually collected. I am amazed that Glasgow University should be willing to publicise this illogical piece of work.

“Dietary phosphate comes from a wide variety of sources, including meats, fish, eggs, dairy products and vegetables, as noted by the authors themselves in the paper.

Therefore, using a cross-sectional ‘snapshot’ of diet and blood samples as was the case in this study, it is impossible to say which individual dietary component was responsible for people’s raised blood phosphate levels.

“The dietary assessment only asked participants to record how often they ate a food – no data were collected on the amounts eaten. Again, this hampers any chance of linking diet with phosphate levels. To do this, you would need a controlled clinical trial which varied the amounts of phosphate-containing foods in the diet.

“Looking at the authors’ theory that a higher meat intake in lower socio-economic groups contributed to faster ageing, national diet data actually show lower or similar intakes of red meat in less well-off groups of people. The National Diet and Nutrition Survey which has data on more than 6000 individuals reported that men in the two lowest socio-economic groups ate 84-85g of red and processed meat daily, while men in the two highest
socio-economic groups ate 83-93g daily. For women the differences were 53-57g daily in the lowest two groups and 56-59g in the highest two groups. This means that the authors of the paper are wrong about differences in red meat intakes across socio-economic groupings.

“Randomised controlled trials which vary lean red meat consumption have not found detrimental effects on markers of health. For example, a 4-month study in elderly women which delivered a red meat intake of 160g daily on 6 days of the week found a significant reduction in inflammation.

“In conclusion, all this study can say is that higher blood phosphate levels are linked with faster cell ageing, and that red meat and blood phosphate are statistically correlated. It tells us nothing about the cause of high phosphate levels, or the cause of faster ageing. The elementary theory that red meat is to blame is simply speculation and is not based on solid evidence.

"Red meat is a valuable source of iron, selenium, B vitamins and vitamin D – all of which would be expected to support normal health.”


 To find out more, please visit

The Meat Advisory Panel (MAP) is a group of experts who provide independent and objective information about red meat and its role as part of a healthy, balanced diet.

MAP is supported by an unrestricted educational grant from the AHDB Pork, AHDB Beef & Lamb. AHDB Pork and AHDB Beef & Lamb are divisions of the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB).

For more information about the role of red meat and a selection of versatile recipes using pork, beef and lamb visit

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

Beefing up menus during Great British Beef Week

St George and William Shakespeare were in good company on Saturday (23rd April), as England’s patron saint’s day and the 400th anniversary of the bard’s death also marked the first day of the 2016 Great British Beef Week.

The week is the brainchild of Ladies in Beef – a formidable network of passionate female beef producers who are on a mission to tell consumers the great story of quality, home-produced beef. It aims to “raise awareness of the quality and versatility of assured British beef and give the industry a much-needed boost”. The first Great British Beef Week took place in 2011 and it’s been gaining momentum ever since.

This year, the ladies are encouraging consumers to celebrate the humble sandwich by ‘beefing up their butty’, capitalising on the popularity of sandwiches in the modern diet. There’s an array of activities taking place during the week, which runs from 23rd April to 2nd May, including steak sandwich sampling events in Exeter and Leeds and regional charity events organised by Ladies in Beef’s partner organisation R.A.B.I. Add to that a swathe of PR activity, including a 60-second Ultimate Beef Buddy video designed specifically for the YouTube generation, and there’s certainly plenty to capture consumers’ imaginations.

Coverage of the week has been impressive, with mentions in the Guardian and the Sunday Mirror, alongside radio interviews and plenty of tasty beef recipes features in cooking and lifestyle magazines. On social media, butchers, farmers, retailers and celebrity chefs have all got involved, with the week being mentioned on Jamie Oliver’s FoodTube and the Gordon Ramsay Group.

However, while poring over recipes and looking at tempting photos of beef dishes, it’s easy to forget that Great British Beef Week has a serious purpose. With the beef sector going through a difficult time, ensuring public support for producers and the supply chain is particularly important.

The week offers the industry the opportunity to rally round and showcase the best of what it has to offer to consumers. It also gives grass-roots beef producers, which includes the members of Ladies in Beef, a platform to tell their stories to media and consumers who are keen to listen.

While AHDB cannot support Great British Beef Week directly due to State Aid regulations, which apply due to how we are funded, we can still benefit from the halo effect created by the week and the loyalty this type of event helps to build. Many retailers, butchers and foodservice companies are keen to be seen to back our farming industry and it makes discussions with them much easier when the desire is already there to source quality assured beef from Britain.

Hot on the heels of Great British Beef Week, our own comprehensive programme of promotional activity, which has recently been signed off, will be getting started in earnest in May, with two months of activity to support the barbecue season. So, whether you’re giving your sandwich a makeover or getting ready to fire up the barbecue, rest assured that quality beef will be staying at the forefront of consumers’ minds.

Ladies in Beef will be in Leeds city centre tomorrow morning (Thursday 28th April) cooking up thin cut steak sandwiches for the public to try, while educating them about how quick and easy it is to create a nutritious butty. Catch them on Briggate, together with their trusty red tractor, from 11am to 3pm.

To find out more about Great British Beef Week and the Ladies in Beef, visit their website.

Wednesday, 20 April 2016

Why events are vital to AHDB work

Our own research from a recent AHDB survey among levy payers shows that, across all sectors, face-to-face contact remains important. It is a key method of us conveying messages and gives producers and growers the chance to interact with us directly, raise concerns and learn more about the breadth of our activity.

Events are an important part of our knowledge exchange work within the beef and lamb sector, though the Better Returns Programme (BRP). We held 180 events from 1st April 2015 to the end of March 2016, with nearly 3,000 producer attendees, 60 per cent of whom changed a working practice or adapted something as a result of attending the event.

Exports is another area where we put a large focus on face-to-face engagement through events. Ensuring that beef and lamb have a strong presence at key trade shows in countries where we currently have access is important for stimulating demand. In those countries where we are still working on market access, attendance at the trade shows helps build a market for our products, which in turn helps the negotiation process, potentially unlocking markets worth millions to beef and sheep meat producers and processors.

This week we have had a presence at a different type of event that remains equally important in ensuring penetration in domestic households and foodservice outlets to support sales at home. The Food and Drink Expo, at Birmingham’s NEC, is one of the country’s best known events of its kind. Incorporating Foodex and the Farm Shop and Deli Show also, it is a one-stop-shop for anyone in retail and/or foodservice seeking innovation and excellence.

For the first time, AHDB Beef & Lamb coordinated a cross-AHDB approach to maximise our messaging to visitors, with the Pork and Potato sectors having a presence on the stand while other sectors were represented in the design and styling of the stand. Designed to look like a farm shop, it gave a place for our staff to meet people to discuss anything from sourcing, to Quality Standard Marks, training and recipe solutions.

Our master butcher, Martin Eccles, was able to talk to visitors about our new cut development, to maximise returns from the carcase, and Dick Van Leeuven was showcasing the extremely successful Meat Education Programme (MEP), launched just a few months ago but already seeing great take-up in the industry.

Our stand included a tasting kitchen so we were able to prepare lamb keema Shepherd’s Pie and thin cut steak sandwiches for visitors to try, seamlessly linking our consumer promotion and recipe work with that of the trade development team, working with retailers and foodservice outlets.

Footfall at the stand was impressive and feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. We can now take this and look at our approach to shows of all types over the coming season, no matter where they are in the world, to ensure we maximise engagement with stakeholders and potential customers, and bang the drum for beef and lamb.

You can find out more about our forthcoming events here.

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

RamCompare project update

Bridget Lloyd, RamCompare project co-ordinator

It has been a busy few months for our RamCompare farms, as the first breeding season of the project is well underway. Over 2500 lambs have been born so far and the final farm is due to lamb outside in May. It is an exciting time, with eight-week weight visits starting this week, giving us a chance to see the full complement of project lambs born on each farm to date. We are expecting the first lambs to be sent to the abattoir towards the end of May when we will start recording carcase data.

 The aim of RamCompare is to enable the UK sheep industry to drive genetic improvement forward through the inclusion of commercial data in genetic evaluations. The project is being used as a pilot to trial strategies for data capture and will be similar to central progeny tests that are taking place in Australia, New Zealand and Ireland. Partners from right along the supply chain are involved and extensive data recording, from birth to slaughter, will be carried out in order to inform genetic evaluations, with performance data being included from farms through to abattoirs.

On 31 March, nominations for natural service rams for the second year of the project closed and we were delighted with the number we received. It shows that pedigree breeders have a keen interest in the project and we are really grateful for the support.

 A total of 237 rams were nominated across the five breeds in the project, which include Hampshire Down, Charollais, Texel, Suffolk and Meatlinc, and we will soon begin the process of selecting the sires to be used in the trial. All the rams nominated have high estimated breeding values, in the top 20% of breed benchmark, and will offer diversity to genetics already on test. Rams will be delivered to the farms during July this year, where they will be put in to quarantine while health and fertility testing takes place, before being released into the flocks for tupping in September.

Natural service ram team at Chawton Park last year
Five new sires have been selected for performance testing in 2017 and will be used by artificial insemination on up to three of the farms. Their use will create genetic links between trial farms and results collected on their progeny will strengthen statistical comparisons between other rams on test and those used for natural mating.
The rams are:

Wedderburn Peleus, 15WNY02086 – Charollais
Stainton Vantage II, WPS1400599 – Texel
Hans Fokker 95, T79:13:095 – Suffolk
Court 12077 General, 73R12077 – Hampshire Down
Thorganby HRF, 04775 – Meatlinc

 Finally, we have a great opportunity for breeders who record with Signet. Frozen semen from three of the sires used for natural service in year one of the project is being offered free of charge to these breeders. The aim is to build genetic linkages between Signet recorded flocks and the RamCompare project. Conditions will apply, for more information email me at

If you want to read more about the project and our trial farms take a look at the

Wednesday, 6 April 2016

Nematodirus – are you aware of the risk to your farm?

Nerys Wright
Nerys Wright, Regional manager, South East and East

As we go into April, sheep farmers need to be aware of the risk Nematodirus can pose to their flock. With the weather warming up it, is likely we will see more cases of the disease and it is important producers keep an eye out for lambs dying suddenly and eliminate Nematodirus as a cause.
Nematodirus battus is a deadly gutworm and normally affects young lambs between six and 12 weeks of age. Eggs deposited on pasture by lambs the previous year hatch in spring, triggered by a chilling over winter followed by seven days between 11.5°C and 17°C. The risk is higher when there is a cold spell followed by a significant increase in temperature.

Young lambs take in large numbers of larvae as they graze which damages their gut, leading to black scour and death. Where possible, farmers should avoid putting young lambs on paddocks that could have been contaminated with Nematodirus eggs, particularly if they were grazed by ewes with young lambs during the previous grazing season.

Nematodirus life-cycle
The University of Bristol has developed an online tool, available on the SCOPS (Sustainable Control of Parasites in Sheep) website, which provides a Nematodirus risk forecast. The tool predicts when Nematodirus eggs are likely to hatch in an area and therefore when there is a higher risk of a disease outbreak.
The tool now uses daily temperature data from 140 weather stations around the country to help give producers more localised and up-to-date information on the Nematodirus risk in your area. The forecast predicts the likely date of hatching and how long larvae will be infective on the pasture. This is incorporated into a Google map so farmers can identify the weather station closest to their farm, which will provide a risk warning for their area and advice on treatment and management actions.

Variation in spring temperatures over the last few years has meant predicting when outbreaks might happen is becoming more and more difficult. This, coupled with the fact faecal egg counts alone are not reliable because damage is done by immature larvae and not egg shedding adults, means farmers need a reliable warning system and this tool can really make a difference.

Producers are also being encouraged to report Nematodirus cases. This will enable mapping of the disease throughout the season and farmers will be able to view whether there has been an outbreak near them. The first outbreak was reported on 17 March and there are currently five confirmed case of Nematodirus already this year.
Farmers should treat young lambs to prevent disease when there is a high risk forecast in their area. More than one treatment, at three-week intervals, may be necessary, depending on the spread of ages in the group and whether the high risk forecast is prolonged. You can find more information on the control of worms by taking a look at the Better Returns Programme (BRP) manual Worm control in sheep for Better Returns.

Visit the SCOPS website to find out the risk forecast in your area and to report cases of Nematodirus by completing the survey. Also, in case you missed it, Lesley Stubbings from SCOPS recently presented a teleconference for AHDB Beef & Lamb about worm control in sheep. Click here to listen again.

Remember: Stay vigilant, check the risk forecast in your area, and report cases of a Nematodirus on your farm.

Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Beef & lamb - ‘Meating’ the need for convenience

AHDB Beef & Lamb multiple retail trade sector manager, Matt Southam, highlights the growing importance of convenience as a key motivator of product choice for consumers.

There is no avoiding the fact that consumer eating habits have changed significantly in recent years, brought about by a number of factors, such as increased time pressures, less cooking education as well as an increase in the number of smaller households.

One of the most startling consequences, as far as the meat industry is concerned, is the reduction in the amount of time consumers spend preparing and cooking the evening meal – down from 60 minutes in 1980 to just 31 minutes in 2014.

We, as an industry, need to adapt and cater for these changes in consumer lifestyles and needs. And that means focusing on convenience – offering a range of easy-to-cook products and meal solutions that consumers don’t have to spend hours preparing.

At AHDB Beef & Lamb, we recognised these changing dynamics a few years ago and developed our Carvery range of mini roasts. The smaller roasting joints are easy to prepare, require a reduced cooking time – in comparison to traditional larger joints – and are versatile enough to be used as part of a variety of meal solutions any day of the week. And that’s exactly how we are marketing them. In fact, a few months ago we saw the return to television of our Midweek Mini Roast advertising campaign, aimed at repositioning roasting joints as a convenient and viable meal solution during the week.

One of our most recent product development initiatives – introduced with convenience firmly in mind – is our new range of Thin Cut Steaks. Not only are they quick to cook, but they are great value, lean and versatile. Thin Cut Steaks provide an ideal ingredient for a variety of meal solutions, including stir-fries, salads, stroganoff and sandwiches.

The ever-increasing demand for convenient meal solutions is backed by the long-term move away from home-cooked meals to manufactured options. However, this does not mean that consumers only want ready-meals as the desire to cook is still there.

The ready-to-cook market presents the beef and lamb industry with a significant opportunity to profit by providing pre-packed and pre-prepared meal solutions. Research shows that consumers are willing to spend significantly more on products that have been enhanced with a marinade, accompaniment or that have been packaged in an oven-ready format.

The popularity of sous vide pre-cooked products that simply need to be heated up is on the increase too. Where added value cuts such as the beef brisket and lamb shoulder may have once been overlooked because of the lengthy cooking time required, consumers can now get the fantastic tenderness and flavours in a matter of minutes by simply reheating pre-prepared products. Consumers’ desire to produce an appealing meal can be achieved in very little time.

Convenience is a significant growth driver in the US too, as we discovered at our World of Innovation conference last autumn. New packaging concepts, for products such as microwavable mince and all-in-one slow cooker bags, were showcased, highlighting that the desire to cook in a hassle-free way is on the increase across the world.

We expect this trend to continue and for consumers to demand more and more convenient products. To attract these consumers, we need to offer them more beef and lamb dishes that can be prepared in less than 30 minutes.

My colleagues and I in the AHDB Beef & Lamb trade marketing team would welcome the opportunity to discuss our latest product development initiatives or work with retailers to optimise their product ranges to cater for the needs of today’s consumers. Our contact details can be found here.

Wednesday, 23 March 2016

How much meat should we eat?

Jo Biggs, AHDB Beef & Lamb Communications Manager

Jo Biggs
Last week I attended a debate, hosted by Riverford Organic, which addressed the contentious subject of how much meat we should include in our diets. The event was part of a wider campaign Riverford are running, looking at meat consumption from the standpoint that many of us are already eating more meat than is good for us and the planet.

The campaign was the brainchild of Riverford founder Guy Watson. As a producer of organic vegetables, he may appear far removed from the issues affecting the meat industry. However, as a meat eater himself and with relatives involved in livestock farming, he’s keen to explore the issues around meat production and discuss ways of finding the right balance in the diet.

Sitting on the panel alongside Guy was Tim Lang, Professor of Food Policy at London’s City University, and Peter Melchett, Policy Director for the Soil Association, both of whom have strong views on commercial livestock farming and choose not to eat meat themselves. We were given the opportunity of having an AHDB Beef & Lamb representative on the panel, but unfortunately the invitation came at too short notice for the right person to attend.

It was evident from the outset that all three panellists and the vast majority of the audience were in favour of reducing meat in the diet. As a result, it was clear that the debate, which was ably chaired by the Daily Telegraph’s food columnist Xanthe Clay, was going to focus on how much we should reduce our meat consumption rather than whether such a move is necessary.

With a focus on sustainability and the environmental impact of meat consumption, the discussion was intelligent, lively and wide-ranging, however for me it failed to answer several big questions. While there was broad agreement from the panel that we should be eating less meat and replacing it in our diets with fruit, vegetables, nuts and seeds, there was little discussion about how the UK can produce enough of these foods to feed a growing population.

We know that a significant proportion of our agricultural land, particularly in upland areas, can only be productive if we use it for grazing livestock. There was much enthusiasm during the debate about the benefits of rewilding swathes of the countryside that are currently used to graze cattle and sheep, however taking this land out of food production will only lead to an increasing reliance on imported food, a consequence which would be counter-productive in terms of our environmental footprint.

The How Much Meat debate panel
With any debate about meat consumption, making the distinction between the situation in the UK and what’s happening globally is a major challenge. Meat production in many other parts of the world is resource intensive and we can certainly not shirk responsibility for the environmental impact of products we import. However, it’s important to distinguish this from meat produced using our own rain-fed pasture system. The UK climate makes it ideally suited to rearing grazing livestock in an efficient manner – surely it makes sense to continue using our land for this purpose?

Another point that is often overlooked and is little understood is the issue of carbon sequestration. While the potential of grassland to store carbon is acknowledged and was touched upon at the debate, quantifying this and other benefits, such as the contribution of the livestock sector to enhancing biodiversity, is very difficult.

With it often being quoted that the level of emissions generated by the global livestock sector is equal or higher than that generated by the transport industry (although this comparison, made in the FAO’s Livestock’s Long Shadow report, has since been discredited), having robust figures to defend the livestock sector is essential. This was touched upon by the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Beef and Lamb in its 2013 report looking at the carbon footprint of the beef and sheep sector. The area of soil carbon storage is also being addressed by work being undertaken by AHDB Beef & Lamb as a supplement to the 2011 Landscapes without Livestock report.

When you scratch the surface, what becomes clear is that the “eat less meat to save the planet” message is too simplistic to be credible given that we are not yet fully able to quantify the carbon footprint of beef and lamb. Only with more research in this area leading to robust scientific evidence and data will we be in a position to provide a true account of the environmental impact of red meat. In the meantime, the industry will continue to work towards reducing its impact right along the supply chain.

Watch the How Much Meat debate online here.

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

Quality Standard Mark takes centre stage in France

At the beginning of March, AHDB invited some key influencers from the agriculture industry to attend the Salon International d’Agriculture (SIA) to demonstrate the work we are doing in France. The international show is held in the centre of Paris over nine days and is the biggest agricultural event in Europe.

SIA is an important event in the diary of our French office, headed by export manager Rémi Fourrier, due to the number of people the show attracts and its importance as a meeting place. AHDB was the only overseas exhibitor present in the main livestock hall and it was at the stand that the group heard about the work Rémi and his team are doing in the French market. The stand itself was designed to look like a country pub and featured examples of Hereford and Angus cattle from the UK, as well as a meat display with lamb and beef cuts, a double video screen stand broadcasting lamb recipes and two interactive touch screens.

                                   AHDB stand at SIA

 The AHDB France office is located in Fontainebleau, near Paris and the team there carry out a range of activities to promote Quality Standard beef and lamb to French consumers and the retail and foodservice sectors. This includes organising trade advertising, events and demonstrations, providing information in supermarkets, managing field marketing activities and communicating with consumers through the website and related Facebook page.

Securing access to new markets is a priority for AHDB Beef & Lamb, but defending markets that are already well-established is also crucial to maintain demand. France represents the single most important export market for UK lamb, taking over 50% of what we export. France is only 35% self-sufficient in lamb and UK imports represent 25% of the market. In 2015 the UK exported 42,700 tonnes of lamb to France, easily making us their largest supplier of sheep meat.

When it comes to beef exports, quantities are far more modest. In 2015, we exported 10,085 tonnes of beef to France. Confidence in the product declined after the 2007 foot and mouth disease outbreak, however significant inroads have been made since then, thanks in no small part to Rémi’s team, to rebuild that trust and enable us to gradually increase our exports.

Within France, the brands ‘agneau St George’ (St George Lamb) and ‘boeuf St George’ (St George Beef) are used to market UK beef and lamb. It was first rolled out for lamb products and has been instrumental part to AHDB’s success in the French market, as it helps differentiate the product and communicate messages to consumers about the taste and tenderness of farm assured lamb. Due to its success the brand was extended to include beef. The brand’s presence in French retailers is growing, supported by promotional activity in-store and it can also now be found in a limited number of French butchers.

All St George branded lamb features the Quality Standard Mark (QSM) on pack. In a survey last summer, consumers stated that the QSM was the most important part of the on-pack sticker, reflecting the recognition the mark has gained in the French market.

For more information on our French office and the valuable work that they do, visit our

Wednesday, 9 March 2016

How beef and lamb exports add value to the sector

Last year was undoubtedly a challenging one for beef and lamb exports, but there were positives to illustrate their value. With newly-published export figures for 2015, this week’s guest blogger, AHDB Beef & Lamb export manager Jean-Pierre Garnier, takes a look back at last year and ahead to what the future holds.

Looking at the beef and lamb export statistics as a whole, 2015 will be remembered as a year of challenges, with beef and sheep meat exports down on 2014 levels.

There is no doubt that the strength of Sterling against the Euro had an impact on the beef trade, from both an import and export perspective. Beef shipments were back again in December, contributing to an 11 per cent fall in as a whole in 2015, compared to 2014.

While trade to Ireland and France held up well, a significant drop off in volumes of cow meat exports to the Netherlands fuelled the fall. The majority of the UK’s trade to the Netherlands is made of fresh/chilled shipments, with carcases accounting for more than half of these over the previous couple of years. Last year carcase shipments accounted for just over a quarter of the trade to the Netherlands.

However, the importance of exporting more cuts than carcases cannot be overstated in adding value and helping to maximise returns throughout the supply chain. It’s a strategy we have been pursuing for some time and is paying dividends in value terms. Beef cuts accounted for 86 per cent of exports last year, compared to 75 per cent in 2014. The average value per tonne of all exports last year was £3,400. For fresh/boneless cuts it was £4,200 per tonne, compared to just £1,800 for fresh/chilled carcases. The benefits are clear to see.

Another cornerstone of our exports work is to identify and develop markets for beef and lamb products for which there is little or no domestic demand – namely fifth quarter. The strategy identifies markets for fifth quarter, where it attracts greater value and maximises carcase utilisation. Last year, for example, volume exports of beef offal were up 8.1 per cent on 2014, with a 26 per cent increase to non-EU markets. Shipments of sheep offal rose 36 per cent with a near threefold increase to non-EU markets. Volumes to South Africa and the Ivory Coast, where we have conducted trade missions in 2012 and 2013, both showed significant increases for beef offal, again underlining the importance of our approach.

The strength of the Pound impacted on farmgate prices of lamb, with prices in Euros stable year on year. Our exports in Europe progressed satisfactorily whilst we had a torrid year in the Far East, with lower prices and access difficulties. Altogether, we estimate that the value of our sheep meat exports is down two per cent against 2014, with the fall of low value commodities to the Far East compensated by higher value exports to the EU.

Of course, another issue which affected sheep meat exports last year in relation to sheep meat were farmer protests in France, mainly in July.

Looking ahead, with an anticipated weakening of the Pound against the Euro, the outlook for exporters in 2016 is much more positive for high-value exports to the EU and Switzerland. We will continue to drive forwards with our strategic approach and fly the flag for our products via trade missions, overseas exhibitions, events and supermarket promotions. Our aim will be to build on the success of last year to continue to compete in what is a volatile global market, but one which also presents huge opportunities.
Further information on beef and lamb exports and imports can be found here.