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.