Sainsbury’s supermarket is planning to give free computers, software and training to beef producers help them better compete in the market.

Justin King, Sainsbury’s chief executive, announced the new scheme – called Farm Connections – at the Oxford Farming Conference.

“Farm Connections will enable beef farmers and producers to exchange information with their supply chain partners and so help drive down costs and improve the competitiveness of British beef,” he said.

“I am convinced the project will make a positive difference to our producers including providing information relating to customer habits and trends and significantly help them in their businesses.“

Mr King said that industry figures suggested that British farmers and livestock producers lagged a long way behind those in other countries when it comes to being IT-enabled.

Only 20% of UK farmers use IT to manage their businesses, with an even smaller number of beef producers using any form of management software.

Training will initially include teaching farmers the basics like computer installation and getting to know the hardware, along with software training including the use of internet and email.

Once the beef producers have confidence to move on, they will be introduced to business improvement packages such as farm accounts, record keeping, the use of benchmarking, e-form filling, electronic data submission, and buying and selling on the internet.

Sainsbury’s partners in the project are The Red Meat Industry Forum (RMIF), meat processor Anglo Beef Processors (ABP) and the Regional Development Agencies (RDAs) for the West Midlands and the South West.

Martin Grantley Smith, general manager of RMIF, said: “For the first time some beef producers will now be able to use technology to help them see beyond the farm gate and take a whole chain approach to their businesses.

“This initiative has been developed after several years work to identify ways to improve efficiency and competitiveness of red meat supply chains – it initially starts with 500 and will hopefully spread to many more.”

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