Thursday, 28 November 2013

I’m a celebrity – get me some beef and lamb!

The focus of attention for a lot of people at the moment has switched to Australia. For some, it’s the cricket. For others, it’s crickets, or at least some other insect finding its way onto a jungle dining table for a celebrity to devour.

A little closer to home however, insects are finding their way onto French restaurant menus with the mouth-watering gastronomic proposition of palm weevils, water scorpion and grasshopper enticing diners in Montmartre.

Of course, there’s nothing new in people eating insects in many parts of the world, and the challenge of feeding the world’s growing population is well documented. The UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has reported the demand for animal protein is set to double by 2050 and listed nearly 2,000 insects that could provide a more cost-effective source of protein.

But are we quite ready to ditch our appetite for quality beef and lamb cuts to take up insect eating en masse just yet, or indeed at all? Novelty, niche or a genuine viable long-term source of protein to challenge beef and lamb? Time will tell.

For now, though, lean beef and lamb are fantastic, versatile ingredients that can play an important role in a healthy and balanced diet for consumers, with lean red meat making a significant contribution to health and wellbeing throughout life. And then, of course, there’s the matter of eating quality, the ‘eating experience’ of tucking in to quality standard beef and lamb, using some of the innovative recipes from the www.simplybeefandlamb.co.uk website, for example.

And as for the environmental credentials concerning production? We’ve said it before but the UK is one of the most efficient places in the world at producing beef and lamb due to its geography and climate, with less reliance on additional feeds. On-farm GHG emissions have been reduced through improved efficiency by 17.9 per cent for beef in the 10 years between 2000 and 2010, and 9.3 per cent for sheep over the same period. This does not mean though that we should not continue to improve our performance.

So, for now, we’d like to think that both the quality of livestock produced here, coupled with our industry’s commitment to efficient and sustainable production can keep beef and lamb on the plates of consumers for the foreseeable future, while leaving the insects to starring TV roles. After all, as an eating experience, when it comes to beef (or lamb) versus bugs, there really can be no contest.

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Stocktake report provides a benchmark for English beef and sheep enterprises

The key to any successful business is keeping costs down and beef and sheep farms are certainly no exception to this rule. However, where they differ from enterprises in other sectors is that many of their costs are hidden. It’s unlikely, for example, that many farmers would factor in unpaid family labour when calculating their costs, or, for that matter, the depreciation of machinery.

This is where the first edition of Stocktake – or the 11th edition of EBLEX’s Business Pointers – comes in. Over the past 10 years, Business Pointers has firmly established itself as an invaluable reference document for beef and sheep meat producers in England to compare their farming enterprise costs with others in the sector. The report calculates average and top third net margins across every type of cattle and sheep enterprise, factoring in all fixed and variable costs, with the aim of highlighting areas of the business that are performing well and those where there is scope to improve net margins.

The reason for rebranding this year’s report is due to the establishment by EBLEX of an in-house benchmarking system – Stocktake. Whereas Business Pointers data was supplied by an external agency, Stocktake data is collected by dedicated staff within the AHDB market intelligence team, from a range of farm enterprises around England. This means we can now include a wider range of data, especially relating to physical factors, allowing producers to better gauge their performance against these benchmark enterprises. Some of the changes are already evident in the Stocktake report, which splits out results from disadvantaged and severely disadvantaged farms for the first time, and gives additional commentary to help producers make decisions about their businesses.

The benchmarking figures don’t always make for great reading, particularly over recent years when the industry has been blighted by spiraling input costs combined with extremely unpredictable weather, both factors which are out of our control. However, this year’s Stocktake report shows clear improvements in all enterprise net margins between the year to March 2013 and the previous year, due to a number of factors, including higher market prices for some enterprise types.

The report also reveals that top third producers in all beef and sheep enterprises spend significantly less on fixed costs than average performing enterprises. This continues to be a key focus area for producers seeking to improve their net margins, as do physical performance and variable costs. Making sure that performance in these areas is as good as possible should ensure that businesses are best placed to cope with other areas of volatility.

Those who are signed up to the EBLEX Better Returns Programme will have received copies of the Stocktake report with the recent autumn mailing. If you wish to request a free copy, email admin@eblex.ahdb.org.uk. Alternatively, you can download the publication from the EBLEX website.

EBLEX hopes to include data from even more farms in its Stocktake analysis next year, so any English producers who wish to benchmark their own costs and contribute to next year’s report should email wendy.walker@ahdb.org.uk or phone 024 7647 8885.

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Getting more people cooking with beef and lamb

Ah, university life. While students are well used to feeding their minds in the lecture theatre, when it comes to spending time in the kitchen, do they have much of a clue what to do?

Well there’s nothing like getting out there to find out, which is exactly what EBLEX has been doing as part of its ongoing campaign to get young people cooking five dishes before they reach the age of 25.

The 5by25 Meat Street Takeaway campaign has been busy touring universities throughout the country with Christian Stevenson, AKA FHM magazine food columnist and street food expert DJ BBQ, encouraging students to get cooking with beef and lamb. They are being invited to cook in a trailer – stocked with 60kg of beef brisket − on their campuses with the help of two ‘learn to cook’ stations.
Meat Street draws the crowds in
The aim? To show them how to get to grips with two simple versions of popular recipes – speedy lamb naansand stir fried beef noodles. The proof of the pudding − or in this case the succulent savoury dishes – is, of course, in the eating and they have certainly proved a hit with the nation’s leaders of tomorrow.

DJ BBQ and his team have been drawing large crowds, with positive responses including ‘I only ever used mince for spaghetti Bolognese, I never thought of using it for a stir fry,’ and ‘I tried cooking the speedy lamb naans and they tasted great!’

DJ BBQ helps get the message out about cooking with beef and lamb
Recipe features have also placed within online student publications to encourage people to visit the dedicated website, www.5by25.com, along with the campaign’s Facebook and Twitter pages for further recipe ideas. Recipe videos for a Pulled Beef Brisket and Speedy Lamb Naans, featuring DJ BBQ and food blogger, Kate Gowing have also been produced for YouTube.

We’ve said it before but rain-fed pasture production system means we have one of the most efficient livestock production systems in the world and cooking is an essential life skill. Sure, not everyone wants to be a ‘foodie’, but understanding where our food comes from and how best to cook it is important.

We’ll keep playing our part in teaching youngsters about the importance of food, its provenance and how to cook tasty, quick and simple dishes with quality assured beef and lamb.

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

EBLEX annual conference highlights key issues for beef and lamb farmers and meat processors

It’s difficult to know how to gauge the success of a conference these days. Numbers of bums on seats used to be a pretty good benchmark – the more people there, surely the better the event. A good number of questions from the audience was, and still is, another reasonable measure, but does it really give a true picture of success?

The drawback of just looking at numbers attending, of course, is determining how many people are really interested in what’s being said. Most of us have been there – the dry, set-in-their-ways events prompting the overwhelming urge to nod off for 10 minutes or so, before being jolted bolt upright when the applause kicks in at the end of a presentation.

Step forward social media! Love it or hate it, there’s no doubting its power to influence, or that it played a significant role at this year’s EBLEX annual conference at Stoneleigh Park, where more than 170 delegates gained an insight into the key opportunities, issues and challenges facing the beef and lamb sector. While we normally expect around 20 social media mentions a day, annual conference day saw more than 300 tweets using the hash tag #EBLEX2013 and 200 mentions of @EblexTweets. That’s pretty successful in anyone’s book, particularly when allied with a good, old-fashioned comment from the floor describing the conference as “the best ever”.

That said, social media is pretty redundant without a key element of any conference – content. With an impressive list of speakers, audience attention was grabbed from the outset with a series of insightful presentations, covering an array of subjects. They included Somerset farmer and Nuffield scholar Ed Green outlining what we can learn from beef production in the US and South America. Ed gave a fascinating insight into what he had learned on his travels and reiterated that the UK beef sector had a ready-made brand with fantastic opportunities ahead of it – 60 million affluent consumers in the UK, 300 million affluent consumers in the EU and growing export markets.

Somerset farmer and Nuffield scholar Ed Green
As EBLEX chairman John Cross pointed out, while not abandoning the domestic market, exports are essential for a sustainable industry. EBLEX export manager Jean-Pierre Garnier highlighted the global opportunities where EBLEX’s work has helped gain market access in 69 territories for lamb and 65 for beef. While there is still work to do, we are moving in the right direction exporting beef, lamb and fifth quarter products in a global market.

Morrisons’ agricultural manager Andrew Loftus provided a valuable insight, not only into how his business works, but also consumer trends, such as the increasing number of people who want to buy British – up from 55 per cent in 2007, to 78 per cent in 2013. Delegates also heard how EBLEX Steak Bars are now in 100 Morrisons stores, which has seen a seven per cent uplift in key beef lines. Importantly, he stressed that to keep British food on the shelves, it needs to be competitive and affordable, profitable and sustainable − all areas that EBLEX is actively involved in.

Morrisons' Agricultural Manager Andrew Loftus
A subject that is often misunderstood is the Halal market. Euro Quality Lambs senior director, Rizvan Khalid, not only gave clarity on perceptions of what is Halal, but focused  on the need for transparency and clarity to ensure all consumers get what they want. He also highlighted EBLEX's new consultation on proposed Halal marks for a market where there are growing opportunities.

Rizvan Khalid, Senior Director of Euro Quality Lambs
NFU vice president Adam Quinney outlined how we can be competitive in the world market, despite challenges to production including climate change, animal health and research and development.

EBLEX sector director Nick Allen went on to examine the threats to our sector, coining the T-shirt slogan of the day, ‘chicken is the enemy!’ Acknowledging the challenges of headline industry issues such as ‘horsegate’ and ongoing price volatility, he emphasised that it was encouraging consumers were saying they wanted to buy British. He also stressed the importance of a thriving export market and the need for farmers to control fixed costs to help enhance their bottom line, highlighted in EBLEX’s Stocktake Report.

EBLEX Sector Director Nick Allen

With delegates including farmers, processors and other industry stakeholders also taking the opportunity to visit stands with information on the Better Returns Programme, EBLEX Trade Marketing, EBLEX Consumer Marketing and exports there was no doubt that everyone left this year’s conference well informed and with plenty of food for thought on the opportunities and challenges that lie ahead. At the end of the day, it was perhaps this fact and the overall buzz of enthusiasm that will mark the conference out as “a good one”.


Speakers taking questions from the floor