Opportunities for supply chain to spring into action

QMS'Pic: Peter Devlin
QMS'Pic: Peter Devlin

Sheep farmers identified a range of opportunities for action at the final meeting of the Borders Lamb Supply Chain Group held at Carfraemill.

The group, which is one of three funded by Quality Meat Scotland (QMS), Farm Stock Scotland Ltd and the Scottish Government, has met on seven occasions over the past 14 months to gain a better understanding of the issues faced at each stage of the lamb supply chain.

“The meetings have been well supported by farmers,” said Iain Riddell of SAC Consulting, part of SRUC (Scotland’s Rural College) who has facilitated the group.

“The project brought procurement and processing representatives and the retailers together with farmers in one place. This has not been done before and provided a unique experience for all those involved.

“The group’s collective view was that if productivity and profitability are to be improved at every link in the chain, more efforts are needed to build on the momentum created by bringing everyone together,” Mr Riddell added.

With the messages on meeting processor’s specification and presenting clean stock being reiterated through the meetings and abattoir visit, improvements had been seen and were crucial to maintaining good working relationships, said Vicky Stebbings of Farm Stock Ltd.

The farmer-owned livestock marketing co-operative handled 6,000 more lambs in 2014 and developed two new buyer relationships to handle the increase in turnover.

Ms Stebbings shared a graph, which illustrated supply against the volatile prices for lamb. From August to October, a high volume of lamb comes forward from farms and this swell in numbers sees prices drop to their lowest point of the year.

She said: “It’s seasonal and traditional but could be avoided if some farmers were to be flexible with their finishing.”

Another speaker at the meeting was Ruth Wilson, who farms at Clackmae, near Earlston.

She sells 2,000 lambs of her total lamb crop deadweight and more than 90 per cent meet the target specification.

Of these she said she was very proud of 1,500, 400 she classes as okay and 100 are described as “others”.

As a result of her involvement in the group she has been inspired to make changes to fine tune finishing and selection, and improve performance further. With the opening up of communications, she feels she will now look for new markets for the poorer lambs. She also reminded the group that the abattoirs are their customers, so farmers should be producing to their specification.

This would, she said, increase consumer satisfaction and help the bottom line.

George Milne, Development Officer with NSA, commended the work of the initiative in getting the whole supply chain talking.

“Scotch Lamb is a first class product backed up by full traceability and assurance standards,” he said. “QMS carries out targeted marketing and campaigns such as Wham Bam Lamb raised consumption by 11 per cent last autumn – think of the impact if QMS received an increased budget,” Mr Milne said.