Sharing of information in red meat is vital, says QMS

The open sharing of information across the different stages of the red meat supply chain has been urged by Quality Meat Scotland (QMS). 

Stuart Ashworth, head of economics services with QMS, said: “The skills of those who work in our industry – from farmers to processors and butchers – are a huge asset, but it is vital there is also good understanding of the challenges and opportunities in each part of the chain.

“One perennial challenge is the nature of animal biology, which means there is a lengthy time involved in livestock production. Coupled with the variability of weather and feed availability, this means making changes in response to market signals can take time. Resolving this challenge is not easy, but illustrates the need for greater appreciation by each link in the supply chain of the constraints faced by each sector.”

He said the trade in prime hoggs was a recent example of the potential offered through strengthening relationships and communication in the red meat chain.

The latest QMS analysis showed that, after dipping in the week immediately before the Easter weekend, prime hogg prices had shown some strength in the current week and regained all of the previous week’s decline. A contributory factor to this, said Ashworth, was the reduced supply of prime hoggs on the market after the Easter surge.

Prime hogg issues

Prime hogg slaughterings during January and February were estimated to have been around 8% lower than last year. “There has been a greater reduction in slaughterings during January and February than the expected decline in slaughter hoggs carried into 2016,” he said. “This may indicate a much smaller reduction, if any, of hogg availability for the remainder of the marketing year.”

However, the proportion of hoggs arriving at auctions at liveweights above the SQQ categorisation (25.5kg – 45.5 kg liveweight) was running higher than last year and was at its highest level for several years.

“Over the past couple of months between 25% and 30% of prime hoggs sold through Scottish auction markets have been over 45.5kg in weight compared to 20% two years ago. Over the past few weeks, auction prices for these animals have been more variable than for the premium weight range of 39kg to 45.5kg liveweight.”

By falling outside the specification that attracts the most sheepmeat market outlets, the price per kilo of these heavy hoggs can be 10p or more lower than those achieving the optimum weights. However, he said, this might not result in lower revenue per animal, meaning little overall incentive to farmers to change their system to better meet the target specification.

The challenge this presented to the multiple retailer, he explained, was that while there might be a supply of product available, there was not a sufficient supply of the specification of product they sought. The concern was that this could lead them to seek product from elsewhere, which more closely met their desired product specification.

The challenge for the producer was one of managing the biology of the animal and the production system to deliver lambs of the correct finish and weight to benefit from the market price signals, which can move more quickly than the production system can adapt, he added.

“This situation further highlights the importance of good communication flow throughout the chain to ensure our industry can benefit fully from the market opportunities available to it,” said Ashworth.

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