Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Developing new markets for red meat exports

With the UK’s future trading environment extremely uncertain, AHDB’s work developing new export markets has taken on an even greater significance. In November, Jonathan Eckley, Senior Export Manager for AHDB, visited three Asian markets to explore their potential and uncover new opportunities for British beef, lamb and pork. Here Jonathan gives an overview of those markets and the work that AHDB Exports are doing to gain and maintain market access.

I started my trip in Vietnam as part of a high-level European Commission trade mission. I joined 45 delegates from 16 member states for the visit, with the aim of understanding more about the country’s red meat market and the potential for British beef and lamb. Although the UK does not currently have access to this fascinating market, it is high on our target list to gain all-important access for our exports. Vietnam would meet our fifth quarter market requirement, as they consume parts of the animal for which there is little demand on the home market, and therefore would help balance the carcase and add value throughout the supply chain.

The next stop was Shanghai, where I attended Food Hotel China (FHC) as part of the Great Britain pavilion. FHC is an important event for the food sector in China and the second largest presence of the year for the AHDB Exports team. The trade fair takes place every November and is a great opportunity for us to fly the flag for British meat and get an insight into China’s appetite for beef, lamb and pork (see our Market intelligence research into lamb imports into China).

The show also enables us to assist British exporters to develop and strengthen existing relationships with Chinese customers. In the case of beef and lamb, where we don’t yet have access to the market, the priority is to build relationships with key stakeholders in the supply chain, so we can hit the ground running as and when access is granted. We are making progress towards this, as in November Chinese officials met with AHDB and Defra for an inspection at a beef farm and abattoir in Surrey and the Midlands to show at first hand our high levels of animal welfare and disease control measures.

While in the region I also made a quick visit to Hong Kong on a fact-finding mission. The UK already has access to this high-value market, where our focus is on promoting our products to high-end retailers and the quality food service market. Our Quality Standard Mark (QSM) beef and lamb needs continual marketing support to appeal to Hong Kong’s discerning consumers.

The city of Beijing was the last stop on the mission, where I attended the Anufood show. Defra Secretary of State, Andrea Leadsom, was also in Beijing at the time and joined AHDB at a specialist round table discussion to find out more about the all-important Chinese food and drink market and how Britain can make the most of it. We discussed Britain’s reputation for high-quality produce, but also expressed our willingness to make use of the whole carcase, including maximising the potential of the fifth quarter market.

In summary, there are many unknown factors in the post-Brexit landscape, but AHDB Exports is working hard to ensure that British agriculture is in good position once discussions on trade agreements with counties outside the EU can begin.

For more information on the work of AHDB Exports and the activity being done to promote red meat overseas visit

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.