Retailer Morrisons is launching a drive to make its British beef supply chain more competitive.

In a bid to explore how beef could be produced more efficiently from dairy cows, milk producers will be paid up to £30/head premium above full market value for dairy beef calves from a range of Cogent sires.

This initiative run in partnership with Arla will see up to 400 dairy farmers from the South West of England offered the premiums initially for calves sired by three Shorthorn, two Limousin and one Stabilizer bull.

Shorthorn calves will attract the top premium of £30 a head while other breeds will earn a £20 a head premium and if successful the scheme will be available to all Arla suppliers.

“The opportunity from improving feed conversion efficiency in the UK cattle industry is huge and is not currently being met,” said Morrisons’ agriculture manager Andrew Loftus.

He highlighted the challenge by pointing out that poultry farmers can produce 1kg of liveweight gain from 1.6kg dry matter, yet beef farmers were only able to achieve an average of 1kg of liveweight gain from 10kg of dry matter if not worse.

Mr Loftus said Morrisons would be targeting an improvement of 1 unit of feed conversion efficiency, moving from 10kg to 9kg of DM per kilo of liveweight gain but said “we don’t know exactly where we’re starting from or how long it will take, we just want farmers to get in the habit of it because the gain will be phenomenal.”

“Too many pedigree men are hobbyists concerned only about the show ring. Feed conversion efficiency needs to get much nearer the top of the list. Testing and genetics are all straightforward we just need better organisation and a bit more willing,” he said.

The beef from dairy initiative is the third “lab chain” launched by Morrisons where they test new ideas to improve the efficiency of their product supply chains. They are already running lab chains for yearling beef and British cheese. The yearling beef lab chain has seen farmers produce a 365kg carcass 13 months earlier than average, with a reduction in feed of 2 tonnes (38% less DM), 30% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and 56% reduction in saturated fat content.

The British Cheese lab chain, in partnership with First Milk and Pembrokeshire dairy farmers, has resulted in a new solids-only cheese contract and a new price setting model based on internationally-quoted markets in order to drive transparency and stability.

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