Raising profitability and sustainability of UK beef industry
Breedr is a productivity and marketing platform for the livestock industry, and is working with the Impact Lab and Rothamsted Research on a ‘Field to Yield’ trial to help farmers improve retail value. The key aim of the ‘Field to Yield’ project is to work with farmers to develop new metrics that will enhance the current grid system.According to Breedr's initial findings, livestock farmers could save up to a year's expense on feed and increase financial returns. The project also supports REAP (the Retailers' Environmental Action Programme), which commits retailers to reducing their environmental impact.
Breedr interviewed leading meat processors and retailers, revealing that only 49 per cent of carcasses are pristine, and buyers would prefer cattle to be culled at 18 months instead of at 30, which is current practice in the UK.
Breedr's founder, Ian Wheal, was brought up on a ranch in Australia. There, every animal has an electronic ear tag and data analytics are used to ensure that 90 per cent of the cattle are delivered to the processor's specifications. Ian believes that British farmers could benefit from such a system as it would reduce waste and increase profit margins.
Ian comments: “Most meat processors purchase cattle according to a price grid system, which rewards those that deliver within the desired specifications and penalises those that don’t. Although prices may vary from week to week, the specifications for an ideal animal for a specific market don’t. However, this information is not easily available to the producer and the current system is also arcane and does not reflect what the consumers wants to eat.”
"We have analysed the scientific literature, interviewed processors and retailers and gained customer insights to understand better the key performance indicators for the beef industry. This has revealed that the optimum age for culling beef cattle is 18 months, delaying does not improve the price gained. Older cattle are literally eating the profits and generating unnecessary greenhouse gases, which put pressure on the environment.”
Breedr has developed a software system that enables farmers to capture information about each animal, monitor their growth and predict the optimum cull date based on processors’ carcass quality specifications. This data, together with greater consistency of supply, can be used to justify premiums. Sharing knowledge of what processors and retailers want and making it easier for producers to deliver animals that meet specifications, could benefit everyone in the value chain and reduce the carbon footprint of beef production.
The ‘Field to Yield’ trial will be soon underway. Prof Lee explains: “Our research shows that it is possible to produce livestock with the desired attributes within 18 months. To test this and provide better advice to producers we need farmers to participate in a trial that would involve monitoring inputs and weight gain.
The team will use the latest machine learning and vision technology to enable better ways to assess body scores of the cattle for measuring the retail value.
According to Dr Khalid Mahmood, Innovation Manger from Rothamsted Research: “Livestock makes a valuable contribution to the Devon and South West economy, a project of this kind will help to address the challenge of suitability regularly faced by the beef industry. Supporting farmers to produce high quality meat with lower inputs and reduced environmental impacts will improve their competitiveness in the global market.”
Ian Wheal concludes that most buyers are now data-analysts. “If buyers have the evidence to show that a particular producer consistently produces meat of the desired quality then it becomes easier to assess fair value. Data paves the way for a different type of relationship between producers and their customers where a quality product is rewarded.”
Livestock producers interested in gaining early access to this technology are invited to take part in the Field to Yield trial. For more information, please contact: Dr Khalid Mahmood.
- Ian Wheal, Founder
- Professor Michael Lee, Head of Sustainable Agricultural Sciences, Rothamsted Research
- Dr Khalid Mahmood, Innovation Manager, Rothamsted Research