Wales could soon host the most ambitious attempt yet to modernise the way lamb carcasses are graded in the UK, thanks in large part to the efforts of a farmer who has just won the 2015 Bullock Award.
A meeting due to take place at the Royal Welsh Winter Fair in Builth Wells on Monday (30 November), involving supermarkets, meat processors, the Welsh government and other industry bodies, is expected to discuss plans to trial an automated carcass-grading system at three abattoirs in Wales.
The initiative has been driven by Welsh sheep and beef farm John Yeomans, who was given the Bullock Award on Thursday (26 November) by the Nuffield Farming Trust, largely in recognition of his role in persuading key industry players to take part in the trial.
Mr Yeomans spent months building contacts in supermarkets and processors and lobbying them to back a pilot for a new approach to grading.
His efforts finally paid off last December, when a meeting of about 30 representatives from organisations including all the major supermarkets, several meat processors, the Welsh meat promotion body Hybu Cig Cymru (Meat Promotion Wales) and the Welsh government agreed to take up the idea.
A smaller working group has met twice since then to investigate how a pilot might work, including which of the various grading technologies available should be used.
The working group’s findings will be discussed at the meeting.
Mr Yeomans embarked on his Nuffield scholarship in 2006, to investigate the scope to introduce a fairer, less subjective way to grade lamb and beef carcasses.
He took up the cause after growing frustrated that the current, EU-backed carcass-classification system failed to adequately reward farmers like him who managed to drive up the yield of lean meat from their stock.
Based on the Europ grid, the current system measures hindquarter shape and fat cover, with human graders using their judgement to classify each carcass against the grid.
“The current system isn’t fair,” Mr Yeomans said.
“We shouldn’t have a system that is opinion-based.”
He also complains the current system ignores important factors that determine the value of the meat taken from a carcass, such as loin length.
“The loin makes up 12-15% of the weight of a lamb carcass but it accounts for about 50% of the value,” he points out.