Big booster for beef in Cumbria

21 December 2001

Big booster for beef in Cumbria

By Robert Harris

BEEF production in Cumbria has been given a boost following the launch of a new initiative to help farmers restock after foot-and-mouth and get closer to the market.

Meadow Quality, the new farmer-controlled business created from the merger of Meadow Valley Livestock and Quality Calves, has formed a joint venture with auctioneer Penrith Farmers and Kidds to recruit 50 skilled farmers in the region to establish a 10,000-cow suckler herd.

It is the first of several projects in the pipeline designed to shorten the supply chain and boost farmer returns, by producing consistent numbers of animals of the right grade direct to processors, said chief executive, Peter Hambleton, at Meadow Qualitys launch in London last week.

Peter Jones, Meadow Qualitys project director, believes the opportunities after F&M are great. "We can start with a clean sheet of paper in many areas. We have a unique opportunity to rebuild in a way that can recapture a competitive image for suckler beef produced in the north of England."

The aim is to rear 9-10,000 high quality cattle a year, managed to a blueprint and targeted at specific outlets. Just one animal movement, from farm to processor, is the target. "We shall plan production over a five-10 year period so that others down the chain can plan their investment, marketing and staffing levels," said Mr Jones.

Although details are still to be thrashed out, it is understood that Penrith Farmers and Kidds could retain ownership of cattle, saving farmers considerable restocking costs.

"Re-establishing viable beef units is a major stage in the recovery of farming in Cumbria," said Richard Morris, the auctioneers managing director of Penrith Farmers and Kidds.

"Furthermore, producing significant numbers of cattle, reared to the highest specification, will help rebuild confidence among major buyers in the beef sector."

At this early stage, no specific approach has been made to processors, though reaction to the idea has been "very positive", said Mr Hambleton.

Andrew Chitty, of Guildford-based Chitty Meats, looked forward to talks. "What you are doing is right – but it has got to be more than words. You have got to take costs out, and stop animals changing hands five times. If you could say you can supply 100 cattle of this grade, and 100 of another, each week for the next five years, I will do the deal with you."

But, he added, only one marketing group had ever visited his premises with a presentation. "You have to come to us and show us what you can do."

Meadow Quality also launched a pig breeding scheme in partnership with JSR Newsham to boost genetic value. Market Meater will increase carcass consistency and yield and improve throughput planning, said Greg Mowbray, Meadow Qualitys director of pig marketing.

Mr Hambleton invited smaller farmer-controlled business to make use of Meadow Qualitys expertise and resources while retaining their own identity.

"To succeed, we have to be able to secure a greater share of the market, target our supply professionally and differentiate product away from commodity markets. This requires negotiating strength and high levels of management skills," he said. &#42

Meadow Quality will start trading on Jan 1, 2002. Meadow Valley Livestock was formed in 1975, and traded 685,000 pigs, 40,000 cattle and 100,000 sheep last year. Quality Calves started in 1981, and traded more than 50,000 calves to rearers and finishers.

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