A consortium of businesses has been awarded £1.2m to fund a three-year research and development project that aims to enhance returns for beef producers and improve the accuracy of abattoir carcass grading.
The project, Optibeef, involves representatives of the beef industry, scientists and precision engineering companies.
It is one of 31 projects that will benefit from the latest round of the government’s UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) investment fund.
The idea behind Optibeef is the use of new technology in the abattoir – 3D imaging and fat sensing – to provide a more accurate and detailed measurement of carcasses and their components.
On-farm technologies will also be developed, which farmers will be able to buy, so they can engage in “whole-life” monitoring of individual animals, including advanced 3D cameras, novel fat sensing, automated weighing and feed intake recording.
The integration – for the first time – of the data from “calf to carcass” will shed light on the factors influencing carcass yield and should drive improvements in product quality and consistency.
Farmers will be able to use the information to make more informed decisions about how to optimise nutrition, health and welfare, slaughter selections and genetic selections.
Lead partner in the project, which is forecast to cost £1.7m in total, is HallMark Veterinary and Compliance Services, which recently bought the UK’s independent carcass classification business MLCSL (Meat and Livestock Commercial Services Ltd) from AHDB.
David Peace, HallMark chairman, said: “The established, manual method of classifying carcasses relies entirely on human judgement.
“It is becoming increasingly challenging to recruit and train enough staff and that process can take a year.
“So, the development of automated classification technology, as a supplement to our current services, will allow us to maintain service levels to customers, with the objective of continual improvement.”
Mr Pearce said the on-farm element of the project was about ensuring that livestock were arriving at the abattoir at the optimum point to meet processors’ specifications.
“This will in turn optimise returns for producers by helping them be more selective on-farm, leading to greater efficiencies through processing facilities.
“The project will also target the ability to predict yield of primal cuts, something the industry has wanted for a very long time.”
HallMark will work with Scotbeef; Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC); Innovent Technology; National Physical Laboratory; Harbro; Hectare Agritech; Ritchie; and Agri-EPI Centre to deliver Optibeef over the next three years.