New Field to Fork Approach Needed for Beef

President pushes for whole chain collaboration

As beef prices continue at a low ebb, NFU Scotland’s President Andrew McCornick has called for fresh thinking in the beef supply chain.

To date, there has been no significant uplift in the finished price for cattle and substantial costs continue to accrue for beef finishers.

NFU Scotland’s livestock committee has asked for a small increase in the statutory beef and sheep levies paid to Quality Meat Scotland, to be match funded by Scottish Government, to drive promotion and increase demand.  

Following extensive lobbying and engagement by NFUS, it is rewarding to see that increasing public procurement of all Scottish produce, including red meat, was included in the First Minister’s programme for government.

Acknowledging frustration and anger amongst members over beef prices, President Andrew McCornick said: “Never at any time have we envisaged a silver bullet that could easily rectify this, but significant incremental changes may deliver progress in the quest for a fair margin in the beef chain.  I am convinced that greater collaboration is one of the more substantial keys to help.  

“Models exists in other sectors such as milk, fruit and vegetables that would fit with produce groups, including beef.  Producers should be developing relationships along the entire supply chain from field to fork. We must improve knowledge of each part’s role; where value can be added and where margin can be found.

“This means working for mutual benefit by building trust, understanding constraints or demands, and breaking down barriers within the entire supply chain.

“There is an implicit interdependence across the whole beef chain which currently is not appreciated.

“Greater collaboration would bring other non-financial mutual benefits such as a more effective promotion; new product development and challenging the anti-meat lobby with a united voice.  We need to be aware of the skills, quality and standards being met by all involved at each link to get the final product in front of our consumers and the joint commitment needed to deliver an excellent end product that our consumers can enjoy time after time.

“This would lead to a contract for farmers to deliver what the market wants when the market wants it, based round a code of practice offering transparency.

“How can this be done?  Getting farmers into the same place at the same time is “like herding cats”.  That is a real weakness which can be exploited by others in the supply chain who, themselves, are busy fighting each other for market share and therefore selling our high quality, safe, traceable product on price and not on value.

“We need to bring retailers, procurement services, processors, finishers, breeders and promotion bodies into a room to identify what collectively is needed from the supply chain at each step to get an end product the consumer wants.

“Everyone should be winners if done correctly.  Farmers will have a way of pooling supply to match demand and agreeing to deliver to a specification exactly when it is wanted.  Processors will have a managed supply to an agreed specification, matching demand of retailers and food services.  Both could involve a new form of contract which adds value.

“Retailers and foodservices can benefit from guarantees of high-quality high spec product as and when wanted. This would then generate feedback for the primary producer, and the cycle goes on by improving at each revolution.

“For this to work, it would require facilitation doing the logistics that could group, batch, coordinate and drive each part of the chain to keep the wheels turning at the right time.

“We are in early discussions with others to help to deliver this kind of model for our beef finishers and then see if it can be a template for other producers and their produce.”  


Contact Bob Carruth on 0131 472 4006

Author: Bob Carruth

Date Published:

News Article No.: 180/19

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About The Author

Bob Carruth

A dairy farmer’s son, I joined NFU Scotland in 1999 after 13 years as an agricultural journalist. Following spells as a regional manager and policy lead on milk, livestock and animal health and welfare, I became Communications Director in 2008.

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