Wednesday, 18 October 2017

A farmers’ view of Strategic Farms


Elbridge Farm in Kent is home to Verity Garrett and the Holdstock family. Recently joining the Strategic Farm initiative, the farm holds 230 pedigree sussex breeding cows plus followers and 200 Romney x ewes. Verity explains why she wanted to become one of the Strategic Farms and share advice for the younger generation of farmers.

1. How long have you been working on the family farm?

I grew up on the farm and so from that point of view I have always been involved in farming, but I have actively been working back on the farm for 4 years. Before that I was working for Tesco as a Technical manager in their fresh produce sourcing team following a degree in Agri-business management at Newcastle University.

2. What attracted you to the Strategic Farm initiative?

I saw it as a great opportunity to really look into both our ways of working and expenditure in the livestock arm of the business. It is a fantastic chance to have access to industry expertise and is a great learning platform from both leaders in the industry and the fellow farms involved in the study. I have been conscious for a while that as a farming business we do limited benchmarking and I know it can be a really useful exercise. I also like the fact that the initiative covers both cattle and sheep, as we have only just taken on sheep as part of the farm business.


3. What do you hope to gain from being a Strategic Farm?

I hope that by taking part we will be able to see where our strengths and weaknesses lie and have full transparency of the profitability of the business. Farming a native breed of cattle means our carcase gradings would not be as consistently as high as the continental breeds, but then I also know our inputs and concentrate feed levels will be lower. Therefore it will be interesting to be benchmarked against the other farm types and breeds involved.I am also really interested in the genetics behind the carcase grading, and I am looking to improve our grassland management too.

4. What do you love most about your job?

I love that no two days are the same and working outside on the farm is the best office you can ask for! Working with animals always throws up daily challenges – but I love it and get a huge amount of satisfaction from them especially during calving and lambing.


5. What advice would you give for those just starting out in their careers in agriculture?

There is such a huge range of careers both linked to agriculture and directly in agriculture. The average age of farmers is ever increasing which should be seen as a concern for the industry but also as a great opportunity for young keen people to work in agriculture. People need to be aware that it’s not glamorous or easy, but it’s a fantastic industry with a huge amount of knowledgeable people to learn from.

You can find more about the Strategic Farm project on our website, or follow #StrategicFarms on Twitter.

Wednesday, 4 October 2017

Meat testing is key to determine consumer needs

Consumer research is essential in helping us to make informed decisions here at AHDB Beef & Lamb. Understanding consumers’ preferences of beef and lamb allows us to feedback to the supply chain and ultimately our levy payers who work to produce the perfect product for consumers worldwide. Here Siobhan Slayven, Supply Chain Development Manager, talks about the latest activity, which is helping us assess consumers’ perception of meat quality

AHDB Beef & Lamb has been working with Meat & Livestock Australia (MLA) to understand more about the Meat Standards Australia programme (MSA), which aims to improve the eating quality of beef meat. The MSA programme is based on over 100,000 consumer taste tests and almost 700,000 samples, giving a huge database of information.




Working with the guidance of MLA, we’ve now started to carry out our own trials on beef eating quality to see what we can learn from our consumers. This month we ran some of the first beef tasting trials in three different locations. Participants were asked to sample a variety of beef cuts, which ranged from forequarter cuts to more premium steak cuts. Testers rated the different cuts of meat based on various qualities such as tenderness, juiciness and flavour, along with their perceived quality of the meat and importantly willingness to pay.



The testing was conducted under controlled conditions in individual booths, with each tester being served a different cut, so they would not be testing the same sample as the person that sat next to them. Once all cuts had been rated, participants were asked how much they would pay for an unsatisfactory steak through to a premium steak.



Assessing meat eating quality is really important to help reduce inconsistencies with meat and highlight areas which can be improved. Since the MSA launch, the programme has not only shown an improvement in the eating quality for consumers but has provided financial benefits to producers due to increased premiums for MSA-graded produce. A number of retailer in Australia are also on board, with around 155 Australian brands introducing on-pack labelling.




Working with MLA has provided us with a great opportunity to look at how determine meat eating quality in the UK and raised ideas as to how we could learn from the programmes results.  

Wednesday, 20 September 2017

How do you measure your social media performance? Part 5

In the fifth and final blog from the AHDB social media team, Kate Nolan-Burgess looks at how you can measure your social media presence.

Our series of social media blogs have covered  of how social media can improve your business, which social media platform is best for your business and what content should work well for your audience. But once you’ve put in the work creating content, how do you measure your performance.
Being active on Facebook and Twitter is great, but the only way to know you’re being successful with your activity is to measure your performance. In order to fully harness the power of social media, you should pay attention to some of the key metrics. Here are the top three areas you should be focusing on:
  •         Follower count – This could be the number of followers on Twitter and Instagram and number of likes on a Facebook page. Creating brand awareness is one of the biggest top-level goals marketers have. You shouldn’t focus purely on the size of your following, but look at the quality of your followers and how many interact with you.

  •          Engagement – This is the number one area that you should be concerned with on social media. Simply put, engagement measures the amount of likes, shares, and comments that your social updates receive. Having a large reach and low engagement is a bad sign, because it shows that the content you post is not resonating with your audience. Reaching millions of people means nothing if they aren’t interest in what you have to offer.



  •          Reach/Impressions – Certain social channels report impressions, others focus on reach. This metric shows you how far your message is actually travelling. Total reach shows you how many unique users in total have seen your content. Impressions consist of the number of times content from your page is displayed. A higher number is always better, as it is crucial to improving your brand awareness. Twitter offer a report system that is free for you to be able to track this.

We hope this series has given you an overview of what you need to know to build a successful social media presence, get closer to your customer base and develop your business. Whether your business is already active on social media or you’re looking to start an online community soon, we hope you have found this series useful. Follow @TheAHDB and @AHDB_BeefLamb to be part of our conversations.

Monday, 4 September 2017

Love Lamb Week: a blog from Jessica Spencer

Jessica Spencer is a young farmer, who has been caring for her own flock of sheep since she was 14 years old. She’s keen to raise awareness of the great work done by farmers in the UK to rear lambs that are renowned around the world for their provenance.

Getting into sheep farming
Most young farmers are either born into or ‘fall’ into sheep farming when continuing as the next generation on the family run farm. I am from a beef-farming family but always wanted to farm sheep. Safe to say my parents wanted nothing to do with my flock when I acquired my first six Suffolk X Texel sheep!

Staying motivated
Our animals depend on devoted farmers who feed and care for them every day of the year; farming isn’t a 9-5 job, it’s a lifestyle! When I decided I wanted to purchase a small flock, my motivation was independence. I wanted to receive a first-hand insight in to running a livestock business and manage my own finances. I always strived to be different I can’t say I knew many others my ages who owned their own sheep and maintained an expanding livestock business throughout their secondary education!



What do you love about your job

I can’t say getting up at 6.30am every morning before school was a highlight of my sheep career. Neither was getting shouted at by my mum for ruining at least three pairs of school shoes a term by traipsing through mud (amongst other things) daily when going to check on my sheep! Despite waking up every two hours right through the night during lambing season, the joy and satisfaction you receive when successfully bringing new life in to the world most definitely defies all the negatives. But ultimately we love what we do, otherwise we wouldn’t do it!


Future of lamb farming

‘My grandfather used to say that once in your life you need a doctor, a lawyer, a policeman and a preacher but every day, three times a day, you need a farmer.’ – Brenda Schoepp

In today’s society, the younger generation have the consumer power to decide the future and sustainability of our British farmers and growers. We rely on the support of our customers purchasing British grown and reared food in order to maintain the cycle and continue to meet the ever-increasing demand of our expanding ageing population.

My future ambition is to ensure everyone at some point during their education gets the opportunity to visit a farm and discover where their food is grown/reared. We need to be inspiring the younger generation to support British farmers by purchasing their produce and promoting our unquestionable good quality British food.

An unusual story from the farm

Some sheep have a kamikaze attitude to life. If one day they cannot find an appropriate ditch to throw themselves in, a small enough fence to squeeze themselves through or a large enough bramble bush to get caught up in, they simply try again the next day! Persistence is key.



‘Tinker’s out, again!’ Everyone, all the time.
My appropriately named orphan lamb Tinker became a tourist attraction at our Farm Shop in Nottinghamshire. Rejected by her mother, Tinker was set for a life of luxury – seizing herself a 1 bedroom cardboard box with fantastic central heating in a prime location (in front of the AGA). Food was never an issue as she had a personal milk maid (me) to attend to every baa & bleat request for a fresh, warm bottle. Following naptime, Tinker would burn some energy on a small stroll around the yard – ceasing optimum attention and cuddles from passing farm shop customers.


Having out-grown the box, it was time for Tinker to be instated with the other sheep in the paddock; However Tinker had other ideas. Piece of advice: You CANNOT keep a cade (bottle fed) lamb inside the pen; no matter how hard you try’. Tinker was an independent sheep who didn’t need to follow the flock, and she felt life was better on the outside of the pen; because of course ‘grass is always greener on the other side!’



Wednesday, 30 August 2017

We need your support with Love Lamb Week

First generation farmer, Richard Taylor, is one of the 2017 Lambassadors, a group of young farmers who are passionate about lamb. He farms 70 ewes at Lanhill Farm in Wiltshire and explains why he’s passionate about getting involved in Love Lamb Week taking place 1 – 7 September.

It is so important that we get the younger generation interested in lamb. Research has shown that it’s a red meat favoured by the older generation so I think now is the time that we need to renovate its image. I personally think that one of the main issues is that people just aren’t aware of the different cuts and products that are available. Traditionally many think of a roast leg of lamb for a Sunday roast and don’t tend to think of lamb as quality processed products such as mince or even sausages. And what doesn’t help is that the younger generation are used to meat products rather than joints, so we need to show them that lamb can be versatile and cooked in this way too.

Love Lamb Week is in its third year and is organised by farming organisations the Agriculture & Horticulture Development Board (AHDB), the National Sheep Association (NSA) and is supported by the National Farmers’ Union (NFU). Along with eleven other young sheep farmers and shepherds, we are championing Love Lamb Week to inspire consumers and demonstrate how tasty, healthy and easy lamb is to cook.

After starting sheep farming around five years ago, I really think the British sheep industry has something great to offer. I sell direct to my customers and enjoy getting their feedback on my products.

For Love Lamb Week last year I attended a local farmers’ market and produced lamb, chilli and garlic sausages that were a real hit! I also joined up with a local pub to serve a five-course lamb feast. This year I plan to do a range of short videos on my farm, educating people about sheep farming and helping them to understand more about the industry and why it is important to get behind lamb produced in the UK.


Love Lamb Week could really raise the profile of sheep farmers in the UK. It’s a way of life that is often challenging but such a worthwhile business. There’s also a lot of small producers out there and I would really like to encourage people to learn more about their local producers and think about the provenance of their meat.

You can get behind Love Lamb Week too by downloading a range of resources from the AHDB Beef & Lamb website or by adding one of the Simply Beef &Lamb recipes to your weekly menu.


Thursday, 17 August 2017

Content is King – Part 4

In the fourth blog from the AHDB social media team, Kate Nolan-Burgess looks at social media content – it’s all about quality, not quantity.

The last social media blog looked at choosing the right social media channel for your business, so now it’s time to think about the type of content for your social media accounts.

Posts should be engaging and provide content that is relevant to your audience. Social media is free, but you need to think about how much time you are putting into developing content and the value you get from it in terms of engagement and feedback from your audience. Post content that gets retweets, likes, shares and followers.

Here are some top tips:

Twitter

Photos – A picture is worth a thousand words. With the 140 character limit, this is even more relevant. Tweets with images generate 89 per cent more likes and 150 per cent more retweets. Use simple images with clean backgrounds and include relevant text to help tell a quick story

Videos – Received well on Twitter if done correctly. To maximise the impact of your video, keep it short and simple (2 minutes maximum). Short, informative pieces with advice, exclusive behind the scenes information and event videos are usually received well

Links – Provide users with a great way to find out more. When promoting a link remember to keep it short, use relevant hashtags and make the call to action clear






Facebook

Photos – Receive 53 per cent more likes and 104 per cent more comments than the average post

Photo albums – Posts including photo albums receive 180 per cent more engagement than the average post

Questions – Posing questions shows that you have an interest in your followers and motivates them to take action 

Comics, cartoons and memes – Use animations to make your audience laugh. Think about the issues relating to your business to make it relatable




Instagram 

Instagram is a social channel that allows users to capture, edit and share photos, videos and messages with followers.

Behind the scenes – Behind-the-scenes content is a great idea for your business. Instagram posts humanise the business, showing the faces behind the brand. You can share pictures of employees and workplace tours to showcase where and how your products are made 

Product features – Your audience is interested in what you are offering, make sure to share posts showing your product. Be cautious about posting too much promotional content, one or two posts per week should be enough

Quotes and text-based content – Quotes are a great way to boost engagement quickly and provide inspiration to your audience. You could also share positive reviews or feedback from customers, event information or announcements and useful information such as recipes, product-related tips, or ‘how to’ videos

The statistics show that  images make posts more interesting and are more likely to gain your target audiences’ attention. Try including visuals with every post and watch your engagement skyrocket.




For more informantion follow @TheAHDB and @AHDB_BeefLamb to receive regular updates on our activities.

Thursday, 3 August 2017

How can social media boost your business? Part 3

In this third blog from the AHDB social media team, Kate Nolan-Burgess introduces the key social media channels that could improve your farm business.

In the last instalment of our social media series, we looked at how social media can help your business. But where do you start? The first step to building a social media empire is picking a network to focus on – different networks attract different audiences and with more than 200 to choose from, the prospect of choosing one that fits your needs may seem a little daunting. But don’t worry, we have narrowed it down to the 3 major players for you:

  •  Facebook

With an estimated 1 billion people using the site each month and up to 645 million local business page views per week, Facebook has proved that its popularity among users is here to stay. Creating a business page could give you access to customers using the platform, but remember that interesting and engaging content needs to be posted regularly. This platform does need a considerable amount of human and financial resource in the form of advertising to make sure you’re reaching the right audience.


  •         Twitter

Twitter has an estimated 215 million active users and is designed not only for friends and family but for like-minded individuals to communicate on interesting topics. It has proven to be a platform of breaking news and a great place to connect with your customers, being able to identify them using the handy hashtag feature. The 140 character count may sound a bit limiting, but there is a certain art to it. Once you mastered it, you can reap the rewards of quick communication with your target audience.
·      
  •       Instagram

With between 130 and 150 million users, Instagram is the home of photos and is a great way to add the ‘human’ element to your business. You can share pictures of products, staff and developments within your business. This free photo-sharing mobile app is mainly used by females between the ages of 18-35 (70% of users), so don’t sign your business up if you are not going to use your smart phone and your target audience aren’t millennials!


Time is money
You only have so much time in a day. Social media may be free but it is important to think about the value of your time. Don’t sign up to every social media channel, determine the one or two most relevant to your business and stick to it. Remember, it’s much better to have one excellent social media network than two platforms that you do not update regularly. Tune in next time, to hear more about the types of content you can share on social media and where to find it! Visit the Beef and Lamb Matters Blog for the latest updates!


You can follow @TheAHDB and @AHDB_BeefLamb to receive regular updates on our activities.

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Opportunities and challenges for British red meat highlighted at AHDB Export Conference

Jonathan Eckley, Senior Red Meat Exports Manager, looks at the opportunities and challenges for British meat in the global marketplace that were discussed at the AHDB Meat Export conference.

The strong performance of British meat exports was highlighted at the 13th Meat Export Conference which took place at the Warwick Hilton on 29 June. Minister for Food and Farming, George Eustice, addressed the 120-strong audience with a particular focus on Brexit and responded to questions from the participants. Among the speakers, Celio Cella, a Shanghai-based meat importer discussed the Chinese market for premium, branded meats and Pr. Alan Matthews of Trinity College Dublin, a renowned expert on food trade, reviewed the Brexit situation.

HMRC data, discussed at the conference, indicates that for the first five months of 2017, UK sheep meat exports have been up and increased by 18% on the year to 34,000 tonnes. Although exports to markets outside the EU more than doubled on the year, it’s worth noting that they only accounted for around 7% of total exports. Sheep meat offal shipments in the five month period also show growth, driven by a 62% increase in shipments to destinations outside of the EU.



The latest in AHDB’s series of Horizon reports, ‘The WTO and its Implications for UK Agriculture’ was also launched at the conference. Previous Horizon publications have examined the trading relationship the UK may have with the EU, post-Brexit. What many have not considered is that, regardless of whether a trade agreement is in place with the EU, the UK will need to abide by World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules affecting agricultural and trade policy when it exits the EU. This is explored in the latest report.

Brexit presents some certainties, as co-phrased by Michel Barnier, by the end of March 2019, the UK will become de facto a Third Country outside of Europe. This has major implications for the UK Beef and Lamb sector. The export trade will also be influenced by changes in import conditions and tariffs with Third Countries. Shipment certificates, Export Health Certificates and certificates of origin will accompany each consignment, however small it may be. There will be border controls of documentation and some physical inspections. This certainly provides some challenges in terms of being prepared for this new situation.



Although Brexit presents our sector with many challenges, it may also provide an opportunity to develop regulatory and policy measures that fit the UK’s unique needs which play to our strengths. The horizon reports provide an excellent reference for the many issues surrounding Brexit.


The meat export conference offered a unique forum where the complex issues and prospects related to exports were presented and discussed. It is also an important event where processors, traders and stakeholders from trade associations and government bodies can meet. It has become an important date in the industry’s calendar and will only become more important in the lead up to Brexit.

Friday, 14 July 2017

How can social media boost your business? Part 2

In this second blog from the AHDB social media team, we look at how social media can help to develop your farm business. Kate Nolan-Burgess blogs about the three key ways in which social media can improve your business.

We’ve already looked at how AHDB is using social media to communicate to our levy payers, but what can it do for YOUR business? The farming industry is often seen as ‘behind the times’ but that is not the case. Having a presence on platforms like Facebook and Twitter could help you to find out key information, network, get closer to your customer base and develop your farm business overall. Here are the three key areas social media can help your business improve on:

Consumer engagement
Do you feel far removed from the end-consumer? Would you like to understand more about how they use and what they want out of your beef & sheep produce?

Producers rarely get the chance to communicate directly with those who buy their products; social media can be used as a tool to cut out the middleman, allow you to hear directly from your customers and nurture those relationships. As we are now a population of online buyers, talking to your customers online has become increasingly important – it could help you gain a better understanding of what your customers want, inform consumers on where your produce comes from, promote your products and stay ahead of the competition.
   


Networking
Do you like a good debate? 14 per cent of farmers use social media to tackle rural isolation by connecting with fellow agricultural workers. Social media is becoming THE place for farmers to share their knowledge and expertise. There are a lot of groups such as @AgriChatUK and @sheep_farmers that help to connect those in the agriculture industry and create interesting conversations. Networking is also a great way to improve direct contact with influential people who could help grow your business.


        
Industry influence
Social media is a powerful tool, which can help bring about change and tackle issues. For example, last autumn social media played a massive role in AHDB Beef & Lamb’s #miniroast campaign reaching an estimate of 405,842 of social media users and contributing to the added £1.3 million in mini roast sales!

If you’re not sure about signing up to social media, you should take a look at how others in the industry are using it to their benefit, whether it’s your suppliers, competitors or producers. In our next blog, we’ll be starting our series of ‘how-to’ guides, which are aimed at producers and look at best practice.

Keep an eye on the Beef and Lamb matters blog for a regular update on the latest guides.
In the meantime, we’d like to know how you use social media already and what opportunities it presents for you. Head to Twitter and follow @AHDB_BeefLamb and @The­AHDB to join in with our conversations.

Friday, 30 June 2017

How can social media boost your business?

In a series of social media blogs, Kate Nolan-Burgess, AHDB Social Media Content Executive, looks at how levy payers can benefit by integrating social media into their everyday business. In this first blog, Kate explains how AHDB uses social media to keep levy payers up to date.

“It's so important that British farmers and growers make the absolute most of the opportunities that social media presents to promote themselves and the wider industry!” – NFU Online



With more than three billion internet users – of which more than two billion have active social accounts – social media has become a powerful marketing tool, offering businesses valuable data  about their customers. At AHDB, social media is used by all of our teams and is a key tool to get our work recognised by a large audience.
So before we give you tips on improving your social media presence, let’s look at how we use social media and why.

We use our @AHDB_BeefLamb Twitter account to help us do three key things:

Connect with our audience –Twitter is a quick way to get information out in bitesize chunks. But to make sure it’s the right information, we keep an eye on how well our followers interact with the content we post – do they ‘like’ it? Are there conversations happening around it? This helps us understand the specific needs of our followers in order to provide content they truly want to see and read about.

Reach new audiences locally and globally   Social media makes it easy to connect with current customers and to seek out new audiences anywhere in the world. We’ve discovered experts through social media who can help us share information on their specialism, who we may not have found without social media platforms.

Improve customer service –  Social media functions in real time, so it gives us instant access to feedback and comments from our followers. They no longer need to go through lengthy processes to get in touch with us – we’re just one click away.

On a day to day basis the AHDB social media team will tweet and post content taken from across the AHDB accounts but the key to the success is the analysis. We make sure we look at engagement levels to check what content is performing well and not so well. This then influences our planning, so we’re always keeping an eye out for industry events and consumer campaigns that will help us promote AHDB as an organisation. But as well as having planned content, we must make sure we are reactive. We aim to get back to enquiries as soon as we can and respond to content that will ultimately help our producers in their farm businesses.


Why should YOUR business have a social media presence?


Farming is an industry which can be seen as ‘old-fashioned’ and ‘left behind’, when it comes to aspects such as social media, but in actual fact it couldn’t be further from the truth – farmers embrace technology, with 53% using social media on a regular basis.


In our next blog we look at how using social media platforms can help increase your customer engagement and make you an industry influencer. In the meantime though, we’d like to know how you use social media currently and what opportunities it presents for you? Have your say and tweet us @AHDB_BeefLamb to join in the conversation.

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

How the Quality Standard Mark is helping the red meat industry’s image

Karl Pendlebury, Quality Manager at AHDB, blogs about the Quality Standard Mark (QSM) scheme and the impact it has on the red meat supply chain.

My role as Quality Manager at AHDB involves managing the QSM scheme and ensuring the red meat supply chain has access to information about maintaining quality meat. I aim to help motivate producers to supply products that are more consistent and maintain consumer confidence in domestically produced red meat. A recent YouGov survey discovered that 51 per cent of people believe quality meat is worth paying more for, while 61 per cent will pay more for quality, so it is our role as advocates of the red meat industry to ensure that our meat produced in the UK ensures a quality end product that is in demand.

QSM is an assurance scheme that is a mark of quality for the consumer and is underpinned by schemes covering animal welfare, food safety, hygiene and environmental protection. It also allows information on where the animal is born, raised and slaughtered, ensuring complete provenance. It is the only assurance scheme that really looks at the science behind meat-eating quality, with all meat produced under the mark chosen according to a strict selection process to ensure the product is consistent. QSM beef and lamb is produced to high standards and consumers can be confident that the supply chain is fully assured and independently inspected at every stage.

AHDB’s 2017–2020 strategy has set an ambitious target – we are aiming to increase beef and sheep carcases meeting supplier specifications by two per cent year on year for the next three years. We will do this through research into new technology and provide a clear understanding of carcase classification, based on quality rather than yield. Our technical team is focussing on projects such as Selection Academy, Strategic Farms and HoloLens technology. The activities are ultimately aiming to inform beef and lamb producers on how they can meet carcase specification better.





The QSM scheme benefits producers by ensuring that meat reaches supplier specifications, which ultimately will achieve a better price and create a more profitable and consistent red meat supply from the UK.

We recently appointed chef Chris Wheeler as UK ambassador for the scheme. Chris has featured on BBC 2’s Great British Menu and regularly appears on national radio. We hope, that with Chris’ help we can spread the positive message of QSM beef and lamb to both the supply chain and consumers alike.The scheme is free to join and is open to a range of businesses including abattoirs, cutting plants, wholesalers, meat processors, catering butchers, foodservice outlets, approved distributors and retailers, both independent and multiple.




Joining the scheme ensures that businesses are following an industry standard and can guarantee their customers beef and lamb of a consistent quality. There is a dedicated team on hand to help with all enquiries and to help companies understand more about how they can promote the quality of their produce.

For more information about the scheme and to keep up to date with QSM activity visit http://www.qsmbeefandlamb.co.uk/quality-standard-mark or contact the scheme helpline on 0845 4918787.

Thursday, 1 June 2017

Last leg of American journey - Becky Willson's Nuffield Scholar trip

Nuffield scholar Becky Willson is travelling around the world to visit countries to find out more about emissions reductions projects for farmers. In the last of a three-part series of blogs, she visits Nebraska and California to look at the issue of soil health.


The third part of my journey saw me travel to Nebraska to talk predominantly about soil health and building resilience within the farming system. Nebraska is a very dry state with an annual rainfall of 24 – 28 inches. I met a variety of farmers who were using different management options (including rotational grazing, cover crops, reduced tillage and intercropping), but they all had the same three goals in mind:

  •          To enhance water cycle and nutrient cycle efficiency
  •          To improve soil organic matter content (and alongside it soil health)
  •          To enhance long and short-term soil resilience

The farmers in Nebraska also work with state climatologists to develop tools that include weather forecasting to help them with farm management decisions. They try to use historical climate data to predict what may happen in the season. I found it interesting when talking to these farmers – they had come to the realisation that the most limiting factor to their yields (and ultimately profit) after water was carbon and not nitrogen, which they could go and buy.


The final stop was California, the biggest agricultural economy in the world, where they are spearheading a project called ‘Healthy Soils’, which uses money from a carbon tax to fund soil carbon projects. The state was being used as a ‘test bed’ to try the idea, which could then be rolled out nationally. I talked to the people responsible for the project and the farmers who were involved – there was an air of excitement, which was slightly tempered by the new administration and whether the project would still happen. 


In summary, it was a fascinating trip, which gave me an opportunity to visit a large range of inspirational people and projects, but also provided me with more questions as to how we can implement some of America’s good practices here in the UK. Integration is a key issue, which we need to focus on, namely what can we integrate within UK agricultural policy that would hit emissions reduction targets without extra paperwork or bureaucracy? There are also problems around what the public will pay for in terms of environmental credentials, and whether we can include carbon in it.

What is clear is that we can all work together on these issues, and by co-ordinating efforts across sectors, industries and countries, there may be an opportunity to achieve real and positive change. 

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Second leg of Nuffield journey - onto Vermont

Nuffield scholar Becky Willson is travelling around the world to visit countries to find out more about emissions reductions projects for farmers. In the second of a three-part series, she visits Vermont and looks at the issue of water management.


The second leg of my journey took me north to Vermont to meet farmers and understand why they were changing their management practices. A big concern for these farmers was water management. Vermont has a growing local food movement, connecting consumers with farmers and its location allows it access to many urban affluent populations including Boston and New York.

The Centre for Sustainable Agriculture in Vermont was running a project looking at farming and climate change and working with farmers using research on-farm to provide farm-level data. I saw a range of projects, including monitoring nutrient levels, sediment and water loss from fields under different tillage and the use of woodchip pads as an out-wintering strategy for livestock farmers. Connecting scientists and farmers makes it possible to see what works before making large investments. It was a great couple of days meeting people who were open to new ideas and proving concepts by looking at farm-based research.




The big issue in Vermont is water quality and there is a real threat that there may be increased regulation to address the issues of run-off, water quality and soil erosion. I met with the Champlain Valley Farmer Coalition, a farmer-led organisation set up to provide leadership and a unified voice for farmers to proactively protect water quality in Lake Champlain. They are a not-for-profit organisation that makes sure farmers’ voices are heard by the general public, policy makers, other farmers and regulators.


Their chair explained: “We are a group of farmers in the Lake Champlain Basin who have taken a leadership role, showing that farm economic resiliency and a clean lake can work together. We are primarily a farmer-based corporation that exists to be a unified voice for farmers who are proactively addressing water quality.”

Following my time in Vermont, I journeyed to Pennsylvania to a conference on Sustainable Agriculture and then flew to Colorado to talk metrics and models with the team that construct America’s annual inventory of greenhouse gases. They are developing tools for farmers that allow them to understand the impact or opportunity of changing management on emissions, and are integrating these into delivery programmes.


My next blog will take me to Nebraska, where I will be looking at soil health and understanding how with their low rainfall affects their farming. 

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

American Adventures – Becky Willson's Nuffield Scholar trip

Nuffield scholar Becky Willson is travelling around the world to visit countries running emissions reductions projects for farmers. In a three-part blog series she gives an insight into what she learnt during a recent trip to the United States.


I was awarded an AHDB-sponsored Nuffield scholarship in 2015 to look at the importance of communicating carbon reduction to the agricultural industry and how to motivate farmers to learn more about how to reduce emissions and achieve business benefits.

The most recent leg of my Nuffield travels took me on a three-week trip to the US to see some of the projects that have been taking place stateside focusing specifically on carbon and greenhouse gas emissions reductions. I arrived the day after President Trump started his travel ban and, despite some trepidation, I was thankfully allowed in to begin a busy schedule of farm visits and meetings.

My trip schedule (as with all good Nuffield visits) spanned the width of the US, and involved meetings with politicians, project holders, researchers, farmers and a few other characters. My aim was to get more of an understanding of what is happening on farm around carbon reduction and look at some of the supported programmes to find out what is motivating farmers to change their management practices.



I quickly learnt my first lesson, which was to check the weather forecast before going to North America in the middle of winter, where the temperature is regularly -10 Degrees Celsius.

My adventure started with a visit to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) in Washington DC to talk policies, programmes and practices. I met a range of different people and it was interesting to hear about the different activities going on through the climate hubs model, which allows farmers to access payments for practices that reduce greenhouse gas emissions or improve soil carbon sequestration. A stand-out benefit of this model is co-ordination. The hubs included the USDA, The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), the Agricultural Research Service, universities, extension providers and others that provide co-ordinated actions, which are adapted to regional conditions and priorities. Bringing everyone around the table ensured that the messaging to famers is consistent and everything is included in the discussion.

Another interesting project I learnt more about is the Useful to Usable project, which for the first time is including social scientists in projects that are able to address the very question of behavioural change. Randy Johnson, who heads up the Agricultural research organisation NIFA’s global climate change work explained: 

It’s got to be a team effort, and include co-production of knowledge, if you do that you are halfway there as you are all invested in the solutions. We can’t deal with the big stuff in isolation, we have got to co-produce and work together.”




It was a fascinating first leg of my journey, and I have gained so much insight into farming practices in the US. Catch the second part of my blog next week, which looks at my time spent in Vermont and understanding their uptake of new technology in farming.

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

How to integrate livestock into cereal rotations

This blog comes from Paul Hill, AHDB Cereals & Oilseeds Knowledge Exchange Manager for the South East. He has worked with a number of monitor farmers who farm both arable and livestock. Paul originally posted this blog in January of this year.

During a discussion regarding how best to integrate livestock into cereal rotations, it suddenly struck me how specialised agricultural staff have now become and that the days of the multi-talented ‘General Farm Worker’ now seems to have becoming a thing of the past.

While being a specialist isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it does mean that, for many arable farms, it’s not easy to introduce livestock onto a farm as the staff expertise is often not there.
To make matters even more complicated, SMR 13 of the cross compliance rules stipulate that livestock keepers must have sufficient competent staff to prevent livestock welfare problems.

The final concern that arable staff may well have is the fact managing livestock doesn’t go hand in hand with the word ‘holiday’!

However, there is a way around all of this that would be advantageous across different farming sectors and could certainly create opportunities

Farm grazing agreements, rolling grazing licences or share farming agreements would give a great opportunity for specialised arable farms to access skilled stock people and the livestock they manage. It may even bring you extra income.

However, before bringing a third party in to graze your cover crops, rotational grass swards or even your forward cereals, you need to be aware of the responsibilities associated with any such agreement. As it now stands the liabilities under a short term licence fall to the landowner.

Therefore, it is the owner of the land who is liable if a CC breach is breached by this grazing. This means that the financial penalty would fall upon the land owner (Licensor) rather than the grazier (Licensee).   With this in mind, it is crucial that a formal Grazing Licence is duly understood and signed by both parties prior to any animals being released onto the land.  Within this licence, it may well be worth entering a clause that ensures the Licensor is indemnified against any BPS deductions as a result of the licensee breaching any associated CC conditions.  However, this doesn’t make things rocket proof as the only real way to ensure this is to develop a good, trusting, working relationship with the grazier which can only be created if the agreement is beneficially working for both parties. It’s important to ensure everyone achieves the goals they require!

As part of the interest surrounding the benefits of livestock within arable operations, AHDB is carrying out a trial looking at beef systems in arable rotations. This project is investigating the possible benefits of using cattle within a more holistic farming operation in order to increase soil biology, and to benefit subsequent cereal yields through the integration of herbal leys within a rotation.

This sort of management may well prove to be important for farms that have a high black-grass infestation. Bringing the land out of production for two years and using it as a grazing and forage before returning it to cereals can help deplete the existing black-grass seed bank. As a bonus, this could generate a financial income from the grazing rent and/or, forage sales.

>Black-grass information sheet

Finally, there’s a non-profit national programme that promotes the financial sustainability of grazing various types of grassland, and utilising the right livestock for the right purpose. The Grazing Animals Project (GAP) has a grazing database that highlights available land and livestock, called ‘Stock Keep’. This can be found on the GAP website, grazinganimalsproject.org.uk.

With this in mind, I wonder if this kind of methodology now needs to be extended into mainstream farming so to encourage arable farmers and livestock managers to work more closely together. By working together, we can use each other’s specialisms to the greatest advantage.




The original blog can be found on the AHDB Cereals & Oilseeds website: http://cereals-blog.ahdb.org.uk/how-to-integrate-livestock-into-cereal-rotations-staff/