Thursday, 26 February 2015

Educating consumers and trade about beef and lamb in Paris

Next week Paris will be preparing itself for its world-famous fashion week, but this week in the French capital, the show on everyone’s mind was the Paris International Show of Agriculture (SIA).

The week-long agricultural show is one of the largest of its nature and a staple date in the industry calendar. However, unlike many other agricultural shows which only appeal to those in the industry, SIA also opens its doors to the general public, who attend in their thousands.

Part of the broad appeal of SIA is that it is a true celebration of the diversity found in the agricultural sector. The event brings live animals, culinary products, crops and technology all under one roof. There is, quite literally, something for everyone.

There are over five exhibition halls, each offering something totally unique. One circuit of the show and you will probably have set your eyes on a canine beauty pageant, tested out the latest crop protection technology, tasted Italian ice-cream and petted a cow.

The first exhibition hall plays host to the livestock industry. As soon as visitors walk through the doors they are met with the familiar sounds and smells of the farmyard – an unexpected surprise in the middle of the city! The livestock floor houses hundreds of different breeds of cattle, sheep and pigs, as well as playing host to various retailers and food service companies.

It is a true juxtaposition of people and products. For industry officials and key players in the agricultural world, this is the ideal meeting place to share expertise and enhance professional relationships. However, for the general public this is unique opportunity to interact with animals that are not typically a part of their world and find out more about the meat they eat.

It is in this hall that AHDB France, who represent our interests across the Channel, have a stand. With a focus on promoting Quality Standard Mark (QSM) beef and lamb, the stand space was shared with Poll Dorset and Texel lambs and Hereford and Angus cattle.  The stand itself has been fashioned in the image of an old English pub, and at lunchtime samples of QSM products were offered to guests to illustrate their superior eating quality. The pub theme allows the stand to set itself apart from other exhibitors on the floor, and is immediately identifiable due to the St George logo, as this is the brand used to promote QSM beef and lamb on the French market.

The approach of coupling livestock with cooked samples of QSM beef and lamb was adopted by AHDB France, as an illustration of the scheme’s assurance which encompasses the whole supply chain. The scheme guarantees eating quality which runs in parallel with assurances of food safety, animal welfare and care for the environment.

SIA, unlike many other industry trade shows, is not only a platform to interact with industry, but also to educate and directly inform consumers across the Channel about the benefits of quality beef and lamb from England.

With around half of UK sheep meat exports heading to France, the value of maintaining close contact with this market through shows such as SIA, cannot be underestimated. SIA, like many other trade exhibitions across the Channel, provides the opportunity to showcase the quality and consistency of our beef and lamb. 

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Future for agriculture in focus at Outlook 2015

Opportunities and challenges facing the meat and dairy sectors came under the spotlight at this year’s Agriculture & Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) Outlook Conference.

More than 170 delegates attended the event in Westminster on February 11 – hosted by AHDB’s livestock sectors (EBLEX, BPEX and DairyCo) and AHDB Market Intelligence − where guest speakers gave insightful presentations on consumer trends, emerging markets and sector-specific outlooks.

New AHDB chief executive Jane King opened the event by highlighting the enormous opportunities for UK agriculture. She took the opportunity to outline her vision for AHDB, stressing that it should become the go-to organisation to equip farmers with the right tools to grow and addressing competitiveness in the global market.

Jane King at Outlook 2015

Outlook also provides the ideal annual platform to present the industry with different perspectives on developments in the meat and dairy sectors and this year’s event didn't disappoint. Future Foundation’s Richard Nicholls was the first speaker at the main session, highlighting consumer trends and suggesting the next few years are likely to be filled with thrifty shoppers. His presentation also made it clear that emerging markets are leading the way in consumer spending opportunities, with India and China at the head of the pack.

Richard’s thought-provoking presentation was followed by the equally engaging Nick Miles from the Institute of Grocery Development (IGD), who focused on opportunities in emerging markets. And if ever the phrase ‘a picture paints a thousand words’ was epitomised, it was in Nick’s illustration of the changing horizon of Shanghai since 1987, drawing a collective gasp from the auditorium at the sheer scale of change.

Delegates heard how meat and dairy is helping retailers to differentiate their offer and bring consumers to modern channels. Nick also outlined the opportunities presented by Asia’s growing middle class, demanding more and better products and paying a premium for it. As he said, meat and dairy can play a strong role as provenance and welfare are given increasing prominence in Asian markets.

Nick Miles from the IGD

The success of a good conference can often be judged by question and answers from the floor and the session prompted a lively and full debate, as did the sector-specific cattle and sheep breakout session which followed it.

After a whistle-stop overview of the beef and sheep meat markets from AHDB’s Debbie Butcher and Stuart Ashworth from QMS, EBLEX chairman John Cross summed up, suggesting areas with a growing middle-class offer the biggest opportunity to our industry. Importantly, building on Jane’s earlier comments about the role of AHDB, John urged delegates to be demanding and ensure they keep attending key events like Outlook 2015, particularly given AHDB's increasingly important role in providing vital industry information.

You can view videos and download presentations from Outlook 2015 and view the conference in tweets here.

Friday, 13 February 2015

Future of upland farming takes centre stage

Nearly 100 delegates turned out on a frosty February morning to attend the first joint EBLEX and NFU Uplands Conference which took place near Okehampton, Devon.

Titled ‘Optimising your farm in the uplands’, the conference was one of two designed specifically to address issues pertinent to upland livestock producers, the second of which took place in Skipton, North Yorkshire. The Okehampton event attracted livestock producers from all over the South West to hear presentations from fellow farmers and expert speakers covering subjects as varied as diversification, succession planning, grassland management and CAP reform.

The conference was chaired by NFU uplands spokesperson Robin Milton, who in his welcome admitted to delegates that while he wants to take an optimistic view, he has concerns about the future of upland farming given the current challenges. “We keep being told the future is bright, but we don’t know how far away the star is,” he said.

The agenda opened with a session on maximising farm business opportunities. Rupert Cox, business adviser and CEO of the Royal Bath and West Society, Joel Woolf, of legal firm Foot Anstey, and HSBC agriculture and food advisor the Rt. Hon. Michael Jack, gave their views on the pros and cons of diversification versus focusing on the core farming business. From the fairly traditional (B&B, fishing lake, caravans) to the rather more unusual (eco igloos, green burials, duvet production), there are many diversification options, but the message from the speakers was that it’s essential to choose the right option for each individual farming business and have a carefully-planned strategy.

Following a brief session on policy, where delegates were given an update from the NFU’s Alex Stevens on the current CAP Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) and an overview of the Countryside Stewardship Scheme from Natural England’s Richard Andrews, the agenda moved on to farming and the next generation.

The conference heard very frank accounts from Exmoor farmer Oliver Edwards and Mendips farmer James Small about how they’ve dealt with succession planning within their own businesses and families. Their honesty and openness in relation to such a tricky subject was certainly appreciated by the assembled audience. They were followed by a second presentation from solicitor Joel Woolfe, who didn’t mince his words when it came to the importance of starting succession planning early and ensuring arrangements are put on a firm legal footing.

After a break for lunch, there was a change of gear and the technical side of farming took centre stage. Dr Mariecia Fraser, from IBERS, was the first to present, giving an overview of recent and upcoming research for upland farming. Alongside research investigating the impact on sheep performance of mixed grazing and the effect of different breed types on habitats, she highlighted an interesting project looking at sowing daffodils into existing upland pastures with the aim of harvesting galanthamine, a plant-derived pharmaceutical product approved as a treatment for Alzheimer’s Disease.

Moving on from research to knowledge transfer, independent consultant Charlie Morgan was next to speak, with advice on how to optimise the potential of upland grasslands. Charlie’s presentation contained plenty of thought-provoking questions designed to get the delegates to think about the current situation on their farm and where they want to get to in terms of their grassland management.
The day concluded with a question and answer session, where EBLEX assistant regional manager Joseph Keating interviewed Dartmoor farmer Lloyd Mortimer and Matt Green, from Exmoor, and found out their views on the future of grassland farming.

With such a broad range of speakers and topics, there’s no doubt that everyone who attended got something useful out of the day. And in a broader sense, the event hopefully helped some in the audience feel more positive about the future of their upland farming businesses.

Robin Milton, from the NFU uplands group, summed up it up neatly on Twitter in fewer than 140 characters, saying:

“Inspiring and open speakers today. There is a future for upland farming after all.”

Presentations from both the South West and North East Uplands Conferences can be found on the EBLEX website.