Farmers go virtual

North East beef farmers are going virtual to prepare themselves for any challenges posed by the market in coming years.

With funding from red-meat development body Quality Meat Scotland, specialist beef cattle farmers from across the region have launched the North East Beef Finishing Focus Group to investigate ways of ensuring a sustainable and profitable future for beef cattle finishers.

One of the main aims of the group is to set up a virtual farm model to examine costs, and members have already submitted their own figures confidentially so that average cost figures can be agreed and entered into the model.

The virtual farm costs will then enable members to look at new ways of improving profitability, primarily in finishing but also throughout the whole production chain.

The model will also allow the group to look at forward projections of profitability taking into account changes in feed and fuel prices, as well as providing a platform for discussions.

The North East Beef Finishing Focus Group is chaired by Bruce Walker, a beef finisher from near Inverurie.

He said: "Before we can look at ways of improving profitability it's vital to be working with accurate production costs. This virtual farm model offers the potential for us to pinpoint current costs within the group and crucially to let us look at how these costs may change in the months to come.

"It is a fact of life that if these costs are not met by the market-place then production will fall. Both the suckled calf producer and the finisher need to make a margin to sustain quality beef production for which Scotland is renowned. An efficient industry will certainly need higher prices to survive."

Ian Pritchard of the Scottish Agricultural College and the beef specialist in the North is facilitating the group's meetings, which are funded by Quality Meat Scotland. Between them, group members finish around 15,000 cattle a year and supply all the major processors in the North East.

The group will be holding a series of meetings on farms where practical aspects of production will be discussed and where the ideas of the group can be shared with other farmers.

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