18th October 2022

We need to promote ourselves as a positive, solution-based industry

Adrian Ivory, beef and arable farmer and QMS board member


The cost-of-living crisis is at the sharp end of challenges for the beef industry at the moment but it only stresses the longer-term need to hone efficiency and environmental merits in our supply chain.

Beef prices are currently strong and we all need them to remain so to cover the increase in input costs, but if the price is too high on shop shelves, customer demand inevitably falls.

A large retailer recently recalled that in the last major recession in 2008, its customers traded up in meat for occasion eating at home and down to its value range for the everyday. It is predicting a similar trend this time around.

This is an opportunity for the red meat industry to encourage the eat less, eat better mantra, and encourage efficiency in our customers’ habits as much as our own production.

We need to inspire them to move away from the ping culture of what can be expensive microwave meals to the economies made by The Batch Lady, the Instagram influencer who encourages batch cooking for quality ready meals, full of nutrients. Or to revisit the days when the Sunday roast stretched into the week as sandwiches, mince then soup.

QMS’ consumer-facing advertising is all about getting more from your meat with budget mid-week meals as well embracing the special occasion. The promotion also puts huge emphasis on the health, nutritional and environmental benefits to give consumers ‘permission’ to buy and enjoy red meat against the tidal wave of media headlines that decry the cows’ burp.

We need to educate the consumer that cattle are not the devil. A recent good read which I highly recommend, Jayne Buxton’s The Great Plant-Based Con, cites the White & Hall study that concluded that even if all meat consumption was eliminated in the US, it would reduce emissions by just 2.6%. Neither for nor against, she also explores why a vegan diet is not a healthier alternative as seems to be the increasingly common perception, especially among the youngest generation of grocery shoppers. Nutritional value is as important as calorie intake and that’s where vitamin- and mineral-rich red meat has a natural asset.

The headlines naming and shaming beef production also ignore the vital role of cattle dung in soil health and reducing the need for artificial fertilisers to grow grass, crops and plants. As we all know, the easiest way to increase organic matters is with farmyard manure, and soil that has soaked up natural manures is full of the organisms, bugs and beasties essential to the growth of nutrient-dense food as well as the green and pleasant land so many appreciate across the UK.

Arguably, the majority of consumers don’t care that much about the detail. While there is a rise of the conscious consumer who will seek out sustainability credentials before they buy a product, for many it is the more general sense that the meat they are consuming is high welfare, good quality and naturally reared, as well as tasting great. This is where the Scotch labels, and the positive association with what the brands stand for, hold their own.

The slaughter price is key and also the hardest to place. We need it to work for the farmer, the processor and the customer.

At home, we’ve been working on efficiency for a number of years in our beef herd, 150 commercial cows, 60 pedigree Simmentals and 40 Charolais, and I’m a geek for a spreadsheet. Through genetics and feed we’ve kept it lean, but as input costs rise, we’ve been looking at where we can replace feed with brock potatoes or other alternatives to keep the costs down. What I’d like to see is a forward-selling mechanism with processors, similar to selling grain forward, so we know the deadweight price up to a year in advance and can work smarter towards that.

To help with our environmental footprint on the farm, we have reduced our finishing times, and see opportunity for us as an industry to further this if the legal limitations were lifted to allow slaughter before 12 months to still be categorised as beef. This combined with breeding and feed mixes that minimise methane emissions and telling the sustainability story through QMS communications will ensure Scotch Beef is synonymous with sustainable beef production on world and domestic markets.

The other significant challenge in this mix, and which will dictate the future of the industry, is the shortage of labour. Not only has a reliable pipeline been undermined by Brexit, but there’s a distinct lack of interest among school leavers in coming into the industry. This has been written and talked about a lot and there are a number of schemes in place, from RHET to some excellent earn-while-you-learn apprenticeships in farming and butchery, but it needs more.

I was pleased, after much lobbying and persuasion, that Countryside Management has been introduced as a Btec in my son’s school, to enlighten and enthuse the next generation about modern estate management but gaining first-hand understanding of what the industry has to offer ambitious young people needs to be multi-pronged, compelling and everywhere.

How beef rides this cost-of-living crisis will be interesting to see but for this and future drivers to keep customers buying beef, reaching net zero and securing labour, we need to come together as an industry, not do ourselves down or feel the burden of challenge, but to promote ourselves as a positive, solution-based industry.


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