Beef Efficiency Scheme launched in difficult climate, says industry expert

Scotland’s Beef Efficiency Scheme (BES) is the “start of a slow burn”, said National Farmers’ Union (NFU) Scotland’s former president Nigel Miller. 

Featured as a guest blogger for NFU Scotland, he said that the scheme was being launched amid a difficult farming environment due to a combination of weather conditions, failing markets and the uncertainties of a new Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) support framework.

Miller said that BES would not change Scottish herd performance “tomorrow or next year”, however, he highlighted that the future of the Scottish beef sector could benefit if the industry can buy into the scheme and develop it for the whole sector.

“It can impact on the whole chain from the temperament of cows to the eating quality of steaks,” he wrote.

“If we don’t grasp this opportunity and we fail to develop BES to a more appropriate and relevant level, then Scotland will be left on the side-lines while other competitors adopt the new techniques and step up the genetic potential of their herds.

“Without a coordinated industry approach to recording and genomics, producers will not control the future of the sector on farm. We are likely to rely on Irish and new world genetics and perhaps be edged into the recording schemes of the major retailers or processing groups determined to lift yields and protect eating quality.”

The former president of the union outlined that the Republic of Ireland was well polished on farm data including genotypes and that it has the ability to utilise carcase data and health scheme data. He claimed that the country has the ability to create a more efficient national herd that can deliver consistent quality.

“The ROI has shown what can be achieved; in so doing they have also created an industry benchmark which in the future Scottish producers must surpass.

“When the Scottish government signed off the budget for BES in the last minutes of the CAP negotiation, they had a vision of an elite Scottish beef industry, delivering higher levels of efficiency and premium quality, a sector using the best science and genetics.

“That vision for Scotch beef and the future for beef producers in Scotland now very much depends on us taking on that challenge."

Despite this, Miller acknowledged that the value of BES beyond the compensation payments for farm data recording and genotyping had “largely been lost in the fog of development”.

“BES, despite the original focus, is now a compromise involving science, workable farm recording systems, administrative protocols and the heavy hand of the European Commission.”

Conflicting pressure has reportedly slowed the development process and left doubts that have questioned producer confidence in the scheme. “That merits a commitment to involve partner farmers in fine tuning the scheme for year two. A more farmer friendly gateway especially for new and developing units and a clear pathway for those that must exit or downsize during the programme are basic building blocks which applicants need before making a commitment.”

The “big wins”, as Miller describes them, will develop over a period of years.

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