< Farmers must harness The Power of Data to improve efficiencies and lower farm emissions
Alice Swift echoed the importance of using data to identify where improvements could be made

Government policy should reward outcomes, not breed, and farmers must harness the power of data to improve efficiencies and lower farm emissions.

These were two key messages from British Limousin Society Chief Executive Alice Swift at the British Cattle Breeders Club Conference in January.

With over 60% of UK land unsuitable for growing crops she emphasised the important role suckler cows played in the uplands, converting grassland into protein-dense food.

“Farm support [is often geared towards] native breeds. Why can’t it be irrespective of breed? Let the farmer decide which breed works for them.

“Suckler cows play a vital role in grazing the uplands – these added-value outcomes must be quantified and rewarded through government support, irrespective of breed.”

Mrs Swift called for the industry to do more to highlight the value of suckler cows to retailers, saying it was impossible for suckler cows to compete with dairy beef based on a carbon model alone.

“There is a place for suckler cows because so much of UK is rough grazing. The suckler cow does an awesome job of turning that into beef.

“They are hefted grazers, and they graze really efficiently – you can’t regenerate soils without suckler cows.”

Data-led decisions

She echoed the importance of using data to identify where improvements could be made.

“To be efficient, you need a live calf per cow per year. Over 250,000 cows in the UK don’t rear a calf to weaning. That’s massively inefficient and is a huge opportunity for us to understand why, and genetics will be playing a part in that.”

This data was based on SRUC figures that showed only 80% of the UK’s 1.3m sucklers reared a calf to weaning.

“In our industry, we are steeped with emotion, opinion, and history, and that’s the kind of debate we bring to the table. [But] we must park that and look at the data.”

She highlighted five ways farmers could improve their green credentials (see box 1).

She said reducing the average slaughter age from 27 months down to 19 months would deliver a 12% reduction in carbon and called for processors to ‘be bold’ to drive this change at a farm level.

“If processors were to put a premium on delivering that younger age at slaughter surely, we would see progress.

“We have seen processors deduct for cattle over 30 months so let’s see them add it back on at the other end.”

She also encouraged the whole industry to start working together.

“I sense within this industry it is a bit native versus continental [and] suckler versus dairy. It doesn’t have to be that way because we all have that common goal of producing steak.

“And we can’t do without suckler beef – there isn’t enough dairy beef in this country to sustain demand. The two must exist together.”

Five ways beef farmers can improve their green credentials:

  1. Produce a live calf per cow per year by selecting easy-calving genetics.
  2. Consistently deliver >1kg/day but don’t look at growth in isolation. There’s no point in getting the growth if you’re having to fill animals full of concentrate.
  3. Feed Efficiency breeding values will soon be launched by BLCS. It is important sire information is on passports so this can be verified.
  4. Consider carcase traits to improve eating quality.
  5. Reduce age at slaughter.