Demand for Wagyu beef has been strong, despite lockdowns and closures, and Warrendale Wagyu continues to build on its farmer supply chain to meet the demand.

The company based at Pocklington, near York, now has approaching 300 farmer partners – breeders, rearers and finishers from Scotland to Hampshire – and the plan is to grow that as the consumer trend for less meat, but higher quality is expected to increase demand.

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Warrendale Wagyu was established in 2017 by Jim Bloom, who runs Warrendale Farms. After seeing the demand for Wagyu beef rise in the UK, he decided that rather than let market demand be fulfilled by imports, he would invest in Wagyu genetics and supply the home market himself.

Two retail contracts account for around 70% of the finished dairy cross beef, with the remainder selling direct to consumers through Warrendale Wagyu's e-commerce site and other outlets such as restaurants.

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Farmers, from breeders to finishers, are paid a guaranteed pp/kg for the animals when they leave the farm, with few extra costs other than the feed and inputs. The aim is to produce consistent, grass-reared animals which are finished by 26 months of age.

With Warrendale owning all the bulls and entering into a buy-back contract with dairy breeders who DNA test all calves, the system is completely traceable.

Warrendale works in partnership with Genus Breeding. It owns the bulls and Genus handles the reproduction services. Last year, more than 32,000 straws of Wagyu semen were sold, with more than 90% of the sales for Warrendale's aligned dairy farmers.

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“We’re purely focusing on Wagyu – no other breeds. That’s where we’re succeeding in the market,” said Jamie Brownrigg, Warrendale Wagyu’s production director for the last four years.

“The system is so different from standard commercial beef, with no hard and fast weights and ages for finished cattle. Our minimum age for finishing is 24 months, but the optimum is 26 months,” said Jamie.

“It’s not what the animal looks like – the conformation is nothing like standard cattle – it’s about the quality of the meat and the marbling,” he added.

Dairy farmers who sign up to the scheme buy the Wagyu semen at a similar price to dairy semen. They sign a buy-back contract which guarantees the price.

Finishers are paid on weight and they receive a a premium on marbling. This is soon to be verified by a globally-recognised Meat Imaging Japan camera which records the marbling quality

The carcases are only graded on marbling. The recorded images also provide important genetic feedback on the bulls at stud.

Throughout the system there are no slaughter costs, commissions or levies. “We’re lifting our prices, but it has nothing to do with the current buoyant commercial beef trade where finishers are also having to pay more to buy in stores,” said Jamie.

“Everything is fixed in our system but we’re taking into account the increase in feed costs and inflation.”

Farm Assurance is a minimum requirement for producers but there are no rules on how cattle should be reared. The company’s nutritionist provides free advice on rations and crop analysis and the feeding can help improve the beef marbling.

With the Wagyu Breeders Association, Warrendale has introduced a new trademark to underpin consumer confidence. It verifies that all animals are Wagyu-sired, born in the UK, BVD-tested and have whole-life Red Tractor assurance and that there is no bull beef.