Strong link in the beef chain

IT’S ALL about adding value to the beef supply chain, say Edwin and Jilly Greed of Fortescue Farm, Thorverton, who produce what they term the ideal meat machine for the beef supply chain.

“We’re restricted by farm size and buildings available, so what we produce has to be of premium quality,” says Mrs Greed. Using a Blonde d’Aquitaine bull on a South Devon cow produces what she believes is the ideal carcass, providing length, lean meat and more high-quality cuts.

Mr and Mrs Greed have been finishing beef for only seven years, but they have increased the herd of pedigree Blondes previously owned by Mrs Greed’s father. They have also established a herd of Blonde x South Devon cows, with most of the offspring sold for meat.

The farm now carries 90 cows, half of them South Devon cross or pure South Devons. “The pedigree Blonde herd goes back 25 years, with all breeding stock relating to four foundation cows my father purchased,” says Mrs Greed.

It was simply a matter of finding what works for the farm and producing accordingly. “We knew the native/Continental mix would click, so we bought the South Devon cows four years ago,” she says.

“We have paid close attention to certain attributes, such as width, tail setting and rib length. This will ensure a quality carcass is produced as well as a strong maternal line for our replacement heifers.”

For beef production to make a considerable profit post-CAP reform, cattle must be selected to suit enterprise requirements, says Mr Greed.

“The figures must stack up to make a profit and that can only come from rearing what suits the farm and the market-place.”

Knowing production costs will determine whether producers are achieving a fair price for the product. Having just completed the farm’s Promar review, the Greeds reckon they will have to receive at least 2.25/kg on deadweight sales to ensure a sustainable enterprise.

“We do see a promising future for the South Devon x Blondes – as well as the pedigrees – in the premium branded sector, mainly because of their consistency,” adds Mrs Greed.

“The Blonde as a terminal sire also delivers a competitive advantage in the new single farm payment era with its big killing-out percentage and its ability to deliver that extra length of prime cuts.”

With the market-place being such a fundamental factor, producers must always be prepared to create as well as respond to opportunities, she adds. “This is something we have done by linking up with many people in the industry to sell a consistent premium product.”

Implementing a partnership-based approach towards selling beef from Fortescue Farm has seen the couple receive plenty of feedback from both abattoir and butcher. “This is a great help when decision making as well as developing new ideas for the enterprise, as we are fully aware of what our customer wants,” says Mrs Greed.

Most of the finished South Devon x Blondes go to master butcher Steve Turton for sale through the Sainsbury’s fresh meat counters in Devon, where every cut of meat can be traced back to a local farm. The Blonde-sired finished stock is sold from the farm to Southern Counties Fresh Foods, Somerset, or St Merryn Foods in Bodmin, Cornwall.

Male cattle aged 11-13 months regularly kill out at grade U with about 20% grading at E2 or 3 with a target carcass weight of 370kg, realising about 700, says Mr Greed. “Leading up to finishing, we weigh cattle every two weeks to ensure we hit the right specification for the abattoir.”

As well as being committed to building partnerships to supply quality, Mrs Greed feels strongly about the marketing scope for South West beef, with the region’s countryside image. There is potential to develop an incredibly strong brand, particularly at the premium end, she says.

“The South West brand should be able to offer a defined quality as well as a well-hung product which is properly labelled, assured and packaged. Having a story to tell and linking brand with all attributes of the region will help sell the product, whether it is breed, age or production specific.”