How to create quality beef Irish-style

How to create quality beef Irish-style

or otherwise known as the:

Lowest Common Denominator Scheme

1. you take any old breed of bovine
2. you confirm that it is of Irish origin
3. you write ‘Quality’ on its forehead
4. you stamp a Shamrock on its rump

and, hey presto

5. it is ‘quality-approved’ Irish beef

and the result of the above approach

1. the Q in QA is it not about quality
2. it subverts the very term ‘quality’
3. the consumer becomes confused
4. the farmer wants a ‘Q’A premium
5. there is no market-‘quality’ extra
6. it undermines trust and integrity

Is the farm or product quality assured?

1. the farm is being quality assured
2. the product quality is not assured

so do not try to tell the consumer it is

otherwise you end up with:

1. quality-assured commodity beef

and

2. implementing the L.C.D. Scheme

when your beef farmers need:

1. to sell a premium-quality product
2. with clarified quality demarcation
3. to consumers who demand quality
4. and want genuine quality products
5. where they understand the origins
6. with husbandry linked to product

and in a fair and equitable way

1. to receive premium-quality prices

as a reward for

2. their capital and investments and
3. their time, skills and management

and if this does not happen:

Irish beef farming is not sustainable

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13 thoughts on “How to create quality beef Irish-style

  1. Don O'Brien

    But this scenario makes the mistaken assumption that there is no QA monitoring after the farm. The livestock haulier must be licenced and trained. The receiving abattoir livestock people must be trained, monitored and outcomes in the lairage verified. pH / temperature relationships in the beef after slaughter must be monitored and verified. Maturation and specification requirements must be adhered to – only then is the beef Quality Assured. The farm, albeit the first and a very important one, is only a link in the chain to the consumer.

    Reply
    1. Stuart Meikle Post author

      No not at all. Even beyond the farm-gate this is not about quality it is about food safety assurance. Yes one can argue that it is a quality characteristic but it is still not one that is going to generate any significant premium for the beef farmer. The problem is that they appear to expect a premium for being ‘quality’ assured and to what degree is that actually available; not least when being ‘quality’ assured becomes the market baseline?

      Reply
      1. Don O'Brien

        To a point I agree with you – however, the ‘QA premium’ is actually an ‘in-spec incentive’ paid by the processors to incentivise farmers to slaughter animals younger and leaner (U30 months, less than fat score 4+). So Farm Quality Assured status is only one of the criteria that must be met to qualify for this premium. And where I do agree is that the baseline has risen from a quality (tenderness) perspective, driven by a Quality agenda focusing on the factors that influence, but ultimately by the consumer. But that is a positive not a negative.

  2. Stuart Meikle Post author

    Don, essentially you are saying that the ‘QA premium’ is paid by the processors according to the specifications they set. Is the problem that there is a multi-layering of the terminology? To the processor it means that they pay a premium on the basis of meeting the specifications they set AND that the requirements of the Bord Bia ‘quality-assured’ are also met? Does this not cause confusion for the supplier of cattle in that many are expecting that they should qualify for the processors ‘QA premium’ simply because they are Bord Bia ‘quality assured’. I can see that there is a premium justification linked to the processors specification but not the ‘quality assured’ scheme which is essentially what I describe as a ‘market-entry’ ticket in that the farm has to be farm assured [otherwise called quality assured] to be able to sell to the processor at the market price. The farmer has to pay for the latter although I would argue that it is a food safety / due diligence issue for the food supply chain even though there is not attributable premium. Maybe there is a need to separate the QA uses to create more clarity?

    Reply
    1. Don O'Brien

      Yes Stuart, this is the nub of the issue. Although the processors continually refer to the bonus as an in-spec bonus, many farmers call it a Farm Assured bonus or a Bord Bia bonus. Many even believe that the 12 cent per kilo premium is paid by Bord Bia. And it is a pre-requisite for retailer supply so from that point of view, it can be seen as a market entry requirement. And there is no cost to the farmer for the audit and registration. But as previously mentioned there are other quality attributes that must be met by the processor before the beef is Quality Assured. And while most of the on-farm requirements of the scheme are legal and best farming practise based, it does promote and incentivise continuous improvement and ‘quality’. But I do agree this is not well understood but essentially processors are finally incentivising farmers to produce what their customers want. Thanks for the discussion.

      Reply
  3. Keith Armitage

    Why is there no mention of taste or marbling of beef in QA scheme? Grass fed beef is being mixed in with grain fed feedlot beef and it’s all being sold as a commodity.

    Reply
    1. Stuart Meikle Post author

      Keith, that is what one would expect in a QUALITY scheme. I would also ask why is there no clear definition of what is grass-fed beef. Anything else you would consider appropriate for a definition of quality?

      Reply
      1. Keith Armitage

        Ok we have trace-ability, I think it might be worth a look on Canadian websites where they do more on the genetic affect on eating quality, bulls in ai are ranked for it.
        I have had some Italian friends over and they could not get over how our beef tasted and how cheap it is. Would it be possible to form a producer group where farmers retain ownership of the beef through the slaughtering process, with the processor as a contractor, just like hauliers are now?

      2. Stuart Meikle Post author

        The producer group idea is certainly the right kind of approach; at least for the development of the premium end of the beef sector. Give the existence of the dairy industry in Ireland and an emphasis on breeding for milking and not meat qualities, there will always be a supply of not-so-premium quality beef and the existing processing structures are more than sufficient at moving more ‘commodity’ beef. The issue that I am most concerned with is the traditional, smaller-scale suckler sector and for that I think we need a new approach so as to develop it as a real premium product. I think you have also picked up on a very good point within the mention of the farmer needing to retain ownership through a greater part of the supply chain. I was working with the same idea; producer group direct to retailer with the supply chain components sub contracted. It may not be a model for the greater part of the industry but it would be a start for new premium beef products.

      3. Keith Armitage

        There are lot’s of problems in the beef industry here. I think we all know enough about them (scale,seasonality, fragmentation low margins etc.). But the angus and hereford groups seem to work well. However if the cattle are outside the ‘spec’ there is no bonus to the farmer but the beef is still marketed as angus or hereford.
        It’s easier (I think) to market the high value cuts at a premium, but how do you sell ‘premium’ mince from premium beef cattle?
        As farmers we know a lot about production but most of us know SFA about marketing our produce. That, and the feeling of complete disillusionment felt at present by us, not just beef farmers, are I think the two biggest obstacles to change.

  4. Stuart Meikle Post author

    Yes, the AA and H brands are doing well, but I am concerned that by allowing the use of the labels on cattle sired by a registered bull that there is virtually no control over the numbers that can be classified under those brands. That has allowed rapid expansion and could, I think, be one reason why specs have been able to change with consequential problems for the continental-based beef sector. As to premium mince, do a taste test on different minces and I think you will find that there is market potential for premium mince.

    As to knowing SFA about marketing, a major problem in Ireland is that those who do the marketing do not seem to understand what marketing is. It is all about selling. Marketing is first to research the market and identify the right product. The selling is an activity that comes at the end of the chain. One of the first things I heard here [from an eminent source] is that the quality of the product does not matter once the marketing boys get hold of it! There is too much of this going on – call it Irish – call it green – call it sustainable – it is all about ‘branding’ and assuming that the customer is an eejit. I suspect that if you put a group of farmers together with some of the independent butchers you would soon start working out what premium beef is. Verifying the ideas with market research is not rocket science. And until that happens Ireland is not going to make steps towards being recognized as a producer of premium beef products [noting that all Irish beef is not premium]. Get the product right in all its facets [taste, texture, healthy-eating, animal welfare, fair-trade, conservation-farmed etc. etc.] and then you will have a story worthy of telling at the point of sale. Sales then becomes a supply-chain activity that connects the producer to the retailer and/or consumer. In marketing you have to get the horse before the cart. Surprisingly in Ireland, it is the wrong way around.

    Reply
    1. Don O'Brien

      I absolutely agree that the first priority is to get quality of Irish beef to the optimum level. On farm target specification and incentivising to hit this spec is only one part. But I know handling at the processing plant to enhance and maximise the natural quality attributes of the beef is now the first priority. It must, given the value difference between best and sub-optimal quality. This has travelled a long way even in the last 5 years. And the industry has tried to tell the story of Ireland and it’s farmers along the way. But we don’t operate in a bubble. We compete with domestic production in every other European country. And more must be done. There is good research being done on identifying the group of genes that predict best eating quality outcomes within the same breed ( and identify the less than average also). Industry is contributing strongly to that research program and there are other projects being funded.
      And despite the cynical assertions of some, the benefits will flow back to producers as witnessed by the Hereford and Angus schemes – after all these are partnered with the processors, to maximise the point of difference advantage to the benefit of the producer.

      Reply
      1. Stuart Meikle Post author

        From an outsider’s perspective, I would suggest that one of the causes of the current situation is that their is too much confusion around the transfer of market information from the final market to the farmer. Surely the main route of information transfer should be consumer – retailer – processor – farmer? In Ireland just how many others are fogging this transmission environment; often it appears with less than factual based information.

        As you say there has been a lot of changing in the last five years but how much of this change has been related to the farmers via a communications system that operates with clarity. Worse, how many people and organisations are ‘helping’ out by telling/directing farmers what to do and how to invest their time, money and resources. And how many of these parties actually have ‘skin in the game’? And how many feel the consequences of poor advise and direction?

        I feel that a large part of the current crisis can be attributed to a marketing failure and that one resolution is to create shorter and direct communication channels that do not rely on third parties. It would, for example, also help if we could see greater clarity for the consumer and the farmer by correctly naming farm assurance schemes; both the farmer and the consumer are being mislead by incorrect ‘quality’ labelling. And it is clearly also causing confusion within an important part of the market information transmission system between processor and farmer.

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