doc

HUGE criticism has been heaped on the current EUROP grading scheme in recent years, with a growing number of producers now calling for a system that rewards eating quality rather than leanness and back-end.

It was a point highlighted by Australian farmer, Tom Gubbins, who farms 2000 Aberdeen-Angus cows in Victoria, where his cows produce an impressive 97% at weaning.

Speaking to The Scottish Farmer at the Aberdeen-Angus World Forum conference, in Edinburgh, he outlined the basics behind a profitable beef enterprise which included decades of recording, EBVs and DNA testing, and a grading system that rewards producers for quality.

“The first thing you have to do is fix the grading scheme here and you have a chance to do that now with Brexit. The EUROP scheme is the worst system out as it does not reward producers for meat quality.

“We work closely with the processors in Australia to produce the type of cattle they are looking for and that means cattle with marbling which is closely related to eating quality,” he said, adding that the family has been weighing cattle since 1928, and now records no fewer than 27 traits to include marbling, fertility, cow size, feet and legs.

“We had 10 years of very difficult prices in the past, but we then became very efficient at producing beef cattle, and producing the right type of cattle for the right pasture.

“We have also built a really good grading system which rewards meat yield, tenderness, marbling and colour,” said Mr Gubbins, whose breeding system at Te Mania Angus revolves around 800 home-bred bulls which are independently fed and recorded and either sold or leased.

Nuffield scholar and Perthshire Aberdeen-Angus breeder, David Ismail, Fordel, also hit out at the EUROP classification system.

“We need a system that can measure marbling, which in turn is closely related to eating quality. Japan produces the most expensive beef in the world and it focuses on eating quality and marbling, so we should be doing the same when it costs so much to produce beef in this country.”

He added that the current system which encourages farmers to produce E and U grade cattle often means that cattle are bred in a way that makes them difficult to calve and finish off grass.

“We need a grading scheme that can measure meat yield and meat quality or marbling, if we are to survive Brexit”, concluded Mr Ismail.

Fellow Nuffield Scholar, Robert Fleming, Glenluce, added: “The current grid system is not the best in the world. We need to adapt the grid to suit our own market and get away from breeding cattle with big back ends which does nothing to improve or increase the amount of quality beef produced.”

On a more positive note, Phil Hadley, from AHDB, said the views of the industry are being sought following the shared findings from their work in establishing the Meat Standards Australia Programme – a system developed to improve the eating quality of meat.

“There is real potential to utilise aspects of the MSA programme in the UK. Assessing meat eating quality at this level is a big asset to producers as well as consumers, helping to reduce inconsistencies with meat and highlight areas which can be improved to enhance UK meat eating quality.”

As a result, he said MLA and AHDB are now carrying out a project assessing the meat eating quality in accordance with the MSA programme, to find out whether any learnings from the programme could benefit the quality of UK meat.

However, Mr Hadley warned that a huge education programme is required to teach consumers that marbling is required for taste and flavour.

“Consumers still reject meat that is heavily marbled even though on taste tests, they rank marbled beef as the best and most flavoursome when cooked,” he said.

Meanwhile, finished beef prices are continuing to rise, with average steer and heifer prices in Scotland again up on the week at 383.2p (+1.9p) and 384.p (+1.0p), respectively, for the week ending July 1.

This means prices are fast approaching the £4 per deadweight kg bracket, with steers and heifers hitting the desired R4L spec’ making 388.6p and 386.6p with a -U4L heifer average working out at just shy of 395p per kg.

Young bull and cow prices in Scotland are also up on the week due to the shortage of numbers north of the Border, to average 368.6p (+2.2p) and 278.6p (+3.1p), respectively, with those hitting the spec’ cashing in at 374.1p and 293.6p.