AROUND 7,000 farmers from across Britain took over York Auction Centre this week to hear from beef industry insiders and to showcase their prized livestock.
At a time of significant challenge for beef producers, the National Beef Association’s spring spectacular - Beef Expo - still drew a healthy contingent of farmers who came to hear about the latest technology and consumer trends from industry figures.
Prior to today’s event, Chris Mallon, the NBA’s chief executive had told Country Week of how the early optimism over improved prices at the start of the year had been replaced by concern and frustration, with recent farmgate price cuts leaving many “fed up” with the volatility.
But farmers know that the instability will not easily disappear and Richard Tasker, the chairman of this year’s Beef Expo and an auctioneer at the host venue in Murton, said the mood at the event had been upbeat.
“This is a very strong and determined industry that’s going to see itself come through this time of uncertainty. There was a lot of positivity around today. Folk have come here to network and learn about new technology and ideas in their industry, and to learn about how to meet the changing demands of customers.”
Supermarket chiefs from Leeds-based Asda gave a presentation which was designed to put beef farmers in touch with end user’s expectations so that they can better meet customer demands.
Speaking afterwards, Mr Tasker reflected on how changing consumer behaviour was dictating to supermarkets the specification of the meat they need to be sourcing from farmers.
He said: “Everything is moving more and more towards the quick ready meal, the world cuisine, the stir fry dishes and away from the old style meat and potato pie and roast - things that involve using a lot of pans and washing up. Asda was highlighting how one of their successes has been the mini roasts which are all packaged up and involve no handling of the meat.”
While frozen and, overall, the chilled ready meal market is in decline, figures published last year showed that sales of premium ready meals are growing in the UK.
Mr Tasker said: “In the last year we have seen the difficulties in the market place from the rules coming back from the abattoirs and supermarkets, they don’t want their cuts of meat too small or too big - this narrow spectrum but I think there is now a better understanding of knowing what the finished article has to be - it is about farmers looking at it from the end consumer’s point of view.
“I would hope there is a message of confidence going forward. The fact is we still have a growing population so there has to be a growing demand for food and new markets.”
Twenty breed societies attended the Expo which also drew crowds to three seminars, which were each used to demonstrate how technology can be integrated to save time and money on beef farms. Among the topics covered was electronic identification, the use of video imaging analysis in grading meat and remote cattle management.
Beef Expo prize winners
Nearly 400 cattle were shown at the Expo in York but there had to be a winner.
The overall supreme champion beast was ‘Sooty’, a Limousin X belonging to TC Edwards and Sons of Wales, bred by Bowen and Bowen of Welshpool.
An auctioneers’ handlers challenge was won by Trevor Simpson, of Hexham and Northern Marts, while the Future Beef Farmer Challenge individual award winner was James Bonnar of Northamptonshire. Askham Bryan College students Betty Green, Emily and Amanda Watson and Nicola Terry were the best team.