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Red meat industry’s resilience despite uncertainty

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WALES’s red meat industry has shown great adaptability and resilience in responding to the COVID-19 crisis this year, Hybu Cig Cymru-Meat Promotion Wales’ (HCC) Chairman Kevin Roberts said in a speech to virtual Royal Welsh Show attendees on Monday (July 20).
However, he also warned that the uncertainty wasn’t over, with the potential of further disruption both from Coronavirus and a trade deadlock with Europe.
Addressing the new virtual Showground, Mr Roberts said it was a very different event this year, “We have seen everything change and in the next six months we are faced with worrying challenges amid a menacing maelstrom of uncertainty.”
He said COVID-19 would remain centre stage, forcing necessary social distancing measures that would impact severely on red meat’s important foodservice sector.
“And waiting stage right is the bear of Brexit. With time ticking for the post-Brexit trade talks, lots of end-of-year outcomes remain possible but from our industry’s standpoint, there are simply no upsides to any of these – save continued free trade with Europe.”
Mr Roberts said HCC was carefully planning for all scenarios but cautioned that a harder Brexit was looming that “would potentially bring massive tariffs on our exports and threats to our farms from trade deals with Australia, New Zealand, or America.”
He said the industry in Wales did not deserve this fate. “In the recent months of hardship, it’s shown what it can do; quality food, produced sustainably, trusted and traceable to the farm gate.
“We’re right to be concerned about what we are eating. To consider importing food of a lesser standard, to open the door to cheaper, more intensive, less sustainable red meat from other countries, would be foolhardy,” said Mr Roberts.
He said HCC would respond to the challenges with creativity and drive and pointed to HCC’s marketing successes in response to lockdown closures of pubs, restaurants and foodservice outlets. “HCC instantly switched its marketing focus, innovating around new isolation initiatives to inspire people to buy roasting joints, hindquarter cuts and premium fresh meat and cook new recipes at home.”
By the end of May, he said this work had racked up huge consumer responses and contributed to an increase of 40% on spending on beef steaks, “This wasn’t just existing customers buying more. The number of people buying beef steaks was up 30%, as we saw consumers turning to quality fresh meat. Our independent butchers saw an even bigger jump in sales. Beef up over 40%, lamb up 25%.”
HCC’s Red Meat Development Programme, funded by the EU and Welsh Government, was driving the industry forward and the successful “Make It Beef” campaign, one of the industry’s largest of recent years and conducted in association with counterparts AHDB and QMS, was being followed by the new “Make It Lamb” campaign, led by celebrity chef John Torode.
“We must all make sure that the lockdown lessons are learned- namely, how we should all treasure and value the food on our plate and properly reward the people that put it there,” said Mr Roberts.
The ‘Make It’ campaigns are being funded from the £3.5 million funds of AHDB red meat levies ring-fenced for collaborative projects which is managed by the three GB meat levy bodies – HCC, QMS and AHDB. The ring-fenced fund is an interim arrangement while a long-term solution is sought on the issue of levies being collected at the point of slaughter in England for animals which have been reared in Scotland or Wales.

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Farming

Alpaca settle in on Welsh hills

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A HERD of alpaca at Aberystwyth University’s upland research centre welcomed two new arrivals during the Covid-19 lockdown.
One male and one female baby alpaca, known as cria, were born at the Pwllpeiran Upland Research Platform and are settling down to life in the Cambrian Mountains.
They are the first cria to be born on the University’s land and to be registered under the centre’s new stud prefix ‘Peiran’.
Peiran Champagne and Peiran Cosmopolitan join a small herd of alpacas who arrived at Pwllpeiran in October 2019 as part of a new research project.
Scientists want to see whether the South American alpaca is suited to life in the Welsh hills and could provide new opportunities for uplands farming.
These long-necked animals, similar to the llama, are renowned for the quality of their fibre (wool) and are happy to feed on low quality grasses which are often snubbed by sheep.
The research project is being led by Dr Mariecia Fraser at the Pwllpeiran Upland Research Centre, which is part of the University’s Institute for Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences (IBERS).
“These are changing times for Welsh upland farming, with the next round of support payments expected to push for a shift away from primary agricultural production towards nature conservation and carbon reduction. In setting up a research herd of alpacas at Pwllpeiran, we want to test whether the alpaca could offer hill farmers a viable alternative to sheep.
“As well as producing high quality fibre, camelids like alpacas have evolved adaptations to enable them to live off poor quality tussock grasses in the Andes, and are happy to tuck into invasive grasses such as Molinia. These forages grow in abundance on the Welsh uplands but tend to be shunned by native sheep. We’ll be looking at the impact of their grazing and how well they could fit in to traditional patterns of farming here,” said Dr Fraser.
The establishment of the initial research herd is being funded by the Joy Welch Educational Charitable Trust, which was set up by the Aberystwyth alumna in 1988.

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Beef calf registrations increase

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NEW figures released by the British Cattle Movement Service (BCMS) suggests that the number of beef calves registered in Wales in the first five months of 2020 is the highest it’s been for several years.
Across Britain there has been an overall rise of 1.2% in calves – both dairy and beef – registered between January and May 2020, compared to the same period last year. In Wales the figure is higher, with an increase of 3.1%.
According to analysis by Hybu Cig Cymru – Meat Promotion Wales (HCC) the statistics reflect a range of factors, including a trend of producing more cross-bred calves from the dairy herd.
Some of the beef breeds and cross breeds showing the biggest increases in terms of calf registrations in Wales include the Aberdeen Angus (up 11.7%) and Hereford (up 4.8%), whilst both Charolais and British Blue registrations are up just over 4%.
The 2020 figures are a contrast to the last five years, where BCMS calf registration data has indicated a flat picture in the Welsh beef registrations.
HCC market analyst Glesni Phillips said, “These figures could show a positive sign for the future of the beef industry in Wales, and reflect broader trends in both the beef and dairy sectors.
“This comes despite the beef sector being hit by uncertainty in recent times. A combination of market conditions led to low farm-gate prices last year, and demand fluctuated widely in the early stages of the Coronavirus lockdown as pubs and restaurants closed their doors.
“However, we’ve seen encouraging consumption figures throughout Britain in the second half of the spring, with great support from consumers for home-produced beef, with its high standards of welfare and environmental sustainability.”
One high-profile new entrant into the beef sector is international rugby referee Nigel Owens MBE, who has recently started his own ‘Mairwen’ herd of Hereford cattle in Carmarthenshire.
“Having worked at Wern Farm Drefach when I was younger it had always been a dream of mine to keep my own herd,” said Nigel, who has built up to around 30 cattle so far on a 116-acre holding, “and if anything the lockdown has given the chance to get things up and running more quickly, as we’ve been able to get on with fencing, hedge-laying and developing our soil and pasture.”
Nigel added, “Each breed has its supporters, but from an early age I recall visiting my uncle and aunt’s farm, Pentwyn in Llannon, who had a Hereford bull running with the dairy herd. My cousin Helen and Gwyndaf near Aberaeron who run the Creuddyn Hereford herd have also been a valuable source of advice. For me, the cattle have a calm nature and calve easily. They’ll also produce good-quality meat which is important as we develop the business in future.”

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New edition of Welsh meat ‘Bible’ launched

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HYBU Cig Cymru – Meat Promotion Wales (HCC) has launched the latest edition of its ‘Little Book of Meat Facts’, the annual digest of facts, figures and trends for the nation’s lamb, beef and pork industries.
Among the key figures in this year’s edition were that Welsh red meat production was worth an estimated £690 million in 2018, compared with £677 million the previous year.
In 2019, total throughput of cattle and calves in Welsh abattoirs stood at 147,600 head, with total beef production totalling 42,900 tonnes (up from 40,000 tonnes the previous year). Throughput of sheep and lambs stood at 3.3 million head, with total sheep meat production totalling 63,400 tonnes, compared with 60,800 in 2018.
France remained the largest destination for lamb exports, but with important growth in trade with Germany which is now in a clear second place. Beef and lamb exports were mostly to Europe, although with significant trade to other markets in the Middle East, East Asia and Canada.
The Little Book also contains information on what kinds of meat British consumers are buying and from which retailers, as well as data on key industry measures such as carcase classification.
HCC Data Analyst Glesni Phillips said; “We usually launch the Little Book of Meat Facts at the Royal Welsh Show, so that farmers and other stakeholders can browse the latest statistics.
“Of course, this year that’s not possible, so we’re launching it virtually and making it available on our website.
“What all the statistics show is that, despite uncertainty surrounding Brexit and now of course the disruption of COVID-19, the red meat sector is hugely important to the Welsh economy. It’s the backbone of rural communities, and also employs large numbers in auction markets, processing and the supply chain, as well as supporting brands which are symbols of our nation’s high-quality food across the world.”

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