5 April 2002

Use mainstream markets to lift red meat sales

By John Burns South-west correspondent

FURTHER expansion of red meat sales through farmers markets and other niche outlets in Devon will be severely limited, according to the recently released Devon Red Meat Strategy report.

It recommends that serious attention must be focussed on production for mainstream markets.

Speaking at the first meeting of the Devon Agricultural Forum, Liz Bowles, an ADAS consultant involved in the study, said a survey of all 19 farmers markets in Devon had shown they were all adequately supplied.

There appeared to be no scope for any more red meat sellers, or for more farmers markets in the county. Internet sales would help, but if all the niche markets totalled 5% they would be doing well, she suggested.

Doubt was also raised in the report about Devon County Councils plan to have 30% of the countys farming converted to organic. It was essential the expansion was market-led, she said.

Most of the report, financed by Devon County Council, district councils and the South West Regional Development Agency, concentrated on meeting the needs of conventional markets and improving farm margins.

Apart from developing more trust and better communication throughout the food chain, there was much that farmers themselves could do. They could breed better quality stock that met processor requirements and converted feed more efficiently.

Processors could improve feedback on carcass quality and make more effort to explain the value of different grades. And they could reward better quality with better payments, said Ms Bowles.

Producers could be more business-like and know their production costs so they could look to see where savings might be made. Joining buying and selling groups might help in that direction. There is to be a big push on marketing branded meat produced in the south-west, including to the public sector.

Bill Harper, the National Beef Associations south-west chairman, expressed disappointment that the study had not examined further processing of red meat. He believed farmers had to get involved beyond the abattoir. &#42