Wednesday, 15 February 2017

An insight into how AHDB Beef & Lamb on-farm events are organised

In 2016, AHDB Beef & Lamb held just under 200 technical events across the country. Here Gemma Beevers, Events Manager (Knowledge Exchange), blogs about the work of her team and the importance of producer feedback in planning successful technical events.

I head up the AHDB Knowledge Exchange (KE) events team, running a programme of technical events for levy payers to help them to develop and improve their businesses and provide them with innovative ways of working.

We are a team of five (four of us are based in the York office, and one team member at the head office in Stoneleigh) who work across all six of AHDB’s divisions to deliver a range of practical, farmer-focused events. In the case of AHDB Beef & Lamb, these events are delivered under the Better Returns Programme (BRP) brand.



My team organise the logistical side of the events, looking after the venues, speakers, travel, accommodation, catering and equipment. We working closely with the KE team, who provide the technical content and source speakers as they generally know the best specialist speaker on particular subjects.

Once the logistics have been confirmed we then need to promote the events – I’m responsible for advertising through third parties such as the NFU, the National Sheep Association, vets, auction marts, and local grazing groups, as well as our regional hubs and communications teams.  

Our events are designed to help tackle current issues and to work with industry partners so producers are given the most relevant and up to date information.

Live to Dead events, which help producers understand the importance of livestock meeting target specification, are some of our most popular. The events were developed as it became apparent that the whole supply chain needed to have a better understanding of how to select livestock for slaughter. These specialist events will become even more important over the next three years as they will help us to meet our strategic aim to increase the number of animals meeting supplier specifications by 2% year on year, reaching 58% for cattle and 58% for sheep by 2020.

Last year more than 3,500 people attended our AHDB Beef & Lamb KE events. After every event we ask for feedback, which is essential for us in understanding how to improve our service to better suit the needs of our producers. In 2016, the feedback from our BRP events showed that more than 99% of attendees thought event speakers were knowledgeable and presented well on the technical subjects, as well as 97% of attendees who said that the event gave them practical ideas they could use to improve their business.

For details on the latest events in your area visit our website, where you can book online.

We always appreciate your feedback in helping us to improve our service to you. Please email us (brp.events@ahdb.org.uk) with any comments.

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

Are you up for the challenge?

Dr Liz Genever, AHDB Beef & Lamb senior livestock scientist, is calling on English sheep producers to take part in a new initiative that aims to understand the consequences of the rearing phase on the lifetime performance of ewes. Here she blogs about the project and what you can do to get involved.

Liz GeneverThe Challenge Sheep project is a new AHDB Beef & Lamb research project which aims to improve the efficiency of breeding flocks in England by looking at the management of ewe replacements. The project will track around 5,000 replacements from a range of sheep farms over seven years to understand how flock performance can be improved.

The initiative is the successor of the sheep key performance indicator (KPI) project, which ran from 2013 until 2016, and gathered and analysed data from three flocks in England. One of the key questions identified by this project was what impact the rearing phase had on ewe lamb performance when they became shearlings and later into life. For example, one of the project farms had an issue with lungworm in shearlings and the impact of that on their performance is seen for at least two production years after they are treated.

AHDB research and on-farm trials have shown that there are clear improvements to be made in managing replacement ewes entering the national flock. The Longwool project (funded by the Meat and Livestock Commission and Defra in 2007) found that up to 15 % of replacements are not retained after their first breeding season due to culling or death. 

Young sheep can also have a negative impact on overall flock performance due to poor lamb growth rates. In England, around 1.6 million ewes are entering the flock for the first time per year. Data from 1,800 ewes in the Longwool project suggests around 4% died in their first year, with another 7% being culled after their first year. If this was applied to the English sheep flock it would equate to around £14 million of value being lost to the industry each year due to culling and death in the first breeding year. This is based on shearlings being valued at £120 and with a 50% reduction in value if culled.

The Challenge Sheep project will be based on similar research that has been done around hoggets in Australia and New Zealand. The results of the project have been translated into literature by Beef + Lamb New Zealand and we want to draw on their methodologies, such as participatory research, to benefit our own industry.

Your industry needs you!
We are looking to recruit sheep producers who will be keen to use the data they are collecting via electronic identification (EID) to improve their decisions on ewe management. All farms that participate in the project will have access to cutting-edge information and will be supported by the AHDB research and knowledge exchange team to interpret the data so they can get the maximum benefit for their business. The aim is also to improve the gross margin of the Challenge Sheep farms by 25% over the duration of the project. The findings of the project will be communicated to industry through events, newsletters and articles involving the successful producers.

The project requires accurate data such as weights, body condition score, lambing data and lamb performance, which is already being collected through our benchmarking programme, so it should just be a case of looking at the data differently and making decisions supported by information gathered from the project. 

Any producers who are interested need to fill in an application form and then the AHDB Beef & Lamb research team will create a shortlist. In late spring/early summer I will be visiting the shortlisted farms, together with the newly appointed Challenge Sheep project manager before the final decisions are made. We are aiming to visit at least ten farms across England.

For more information about the project email me or phone 07790 378349, or you can contact your regional Knowledge Exchange Manager.

To apply to take part in the project visit the Challenge Sheep webpage, the deadline for applications is Monday 20 February.

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Have you got the selection factor?

AHDB Beef & Lamb is on the hunt for individuals with the beef and lamb X factor! Steve Dunkley, Knowledge Exchange Senior Manager, blogs about how he is aiming to find farming’s next big selection experts through a selection academy.

I am looking for people who have something special when it comes to selecting livestock for slaughter. My aim is to identify a team of passionate individuals who have the ability and enthusiasm to train others to select both sheep and cattle and therefore help the industry thrive. 

As part of AHDB’s new ‘Inspiring Success’ 2017-2010 strategy our target is to increase the number of animals meeting supplier specifications by two per cent year on year. So, in 2020, we are aiming for 58% of cattle and sheep to meet target specification. To do this I want to set up an initiative known as a Knowledge Exchange Supply Chain Programme, where we can work with farmers, processors, auction markets and retailers on the key factors that affect whether animals meet the target, including genetics, nutrition, health and selection. The selection academy will just be one of the many projects that form part of the wider Knowledge Exchange Supply Chain Programme.

Meeting target specification is important as it ensures the industry is producing what the market wants and ultimately keeping consumers eating beef and lamb. This is something that impacts beef and sheep producers’ profitability and is why I’m aiming to put together a team of people that will equip the industry with an understanding about the importance of sending stock to slaughter once they know they meet target specification for the market they are aiming for.

Although I’m keen that applicants have some knowledge of selecting livestock, we will work with those who are successful to develop their knowledge of consumer demands, processing considerations and finishing livestock as well as their core presentation and facilitation skills. AHDB will also provide useful resources such as presentation slides, technical literature and banners. What I do ask for is a willingness to learn and a passion to help the industry, as I want the final team to work across the country identifying opportunities to speak and demonstrate the selection message using live animals at meetings, events and shows.



Still not sure if this is the role for you? For some inspiration watch Steve Powdrill, our national selection specialist, assessing lambs before and after slaughter.
The deadline for applications is 10 February and assessment days will be held in the North and South of England from 6 March.

To apply for a chance to be part of our selection ‘dream team’ please visit our website for further details, fill out the application form and email to brp@ahdb.org.uk


If you would like to know more about our Knowledge Exchange activity, email: Steve.Dunkley@ahdb.org.uk or phone: 07841570549.

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 www.ahdb.org.uk/exports.

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 http://beefandlamb.ahdb.org.uk/news-releases/sector-board-members/