IT plan to boost beef farming

Industry figures suggest that British farmers and livestock producers lag a long way behind those in other countries when it comes to being IT enabled.

Industry figures suggest that British farmers and livestock producers lag a long way behind those in other countries when it comes to being IT enabled.

Only 20pc of UK farmers use IT to manage their businesses, with an even smaller number of beef producers using any form of management software.

To support British beef farmers, and to improve rural access to technology, Justin King, Sainsbury's chief executive, launched a scheme at the 61th Oxford Farming Conference.

Known as Farm Connections, it will mean that key beef producers will be given computers, software and training so they can better operate and compete in the market, and be informed of industry matters and production costs.

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Training will initially include teaching farmers the basics like computer installation and getting to know the hardware, along with software training including the use of internet and e-mail.

Once the beef producers have confidence to move on, they will be introduced to business improvement packages such as farm accounts, record keeping, the use of benchmarking, e-form filling, electronic data submission, and buying and selling on the internet.

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Mr King, said: "Farm Connections will enable beef farmers and producers to exchange information with their supply chain partners and so help drive down costs and improve the competitiveness of British beef.

"I am convinced the project will make a positive difference to our producers including providing information relating to customer habits and trends and significantly help them in their businesses."

The partners in the project, which will provide the producers with computers, management software and local training and support, are the Red Meat Industry Forum (RMIF) and meat processor Anglo Beef Processors (ABP).

Martin Grantley Smith, general manager of RMIF, added: "For the first time some beef producers will now be able to use technology to help them see beyond the farm gate and take a whole chain approach to their businesses.

"This initiative has been developed after several years work to identify ways to improve efficiency and competitiveness of red meat supply chains - it initially starts with 500 and will hopefully spread to many more."

Richard Cracknell, managing director, ABP, said: "Farm Connections will address every stage of IT literacy from how to switch on the PC and sending an e-mail to exchanging market information with their buyers and filling in Defra forms."

The Farm Connections programme will have wider benefits to farm businesses and rural communities, as well as providing an environment where farmers and producers can grow, adapt and develop their business competitiveness.

National Beef Association members in southern England are to meet later this month to discuss ways of improving income from the sale of slaughter cattle.

And a move towards the group sale of at least 20,000 head a year to a single buyer is considered the most likely response to unrelenting price pressure from the biggest slaughterers in the region - including Southern Counties Fresh Food, St Merryn Meat and Chitty Foods.

The group is being led by Buckinghamshire feeder, Ray Lloyd of Valley Farm, Ashenden, Aylesbury. He will be supported by Christopher Thomas-Everard from Exmoor in Devon, Frank Momber from Hawkley in Hampshire and Philip Dale from Bridgham in Norfolk.

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