Marginal gains can earn gold medal bonuses, says QMS

Later this summer, the country's top sportspeople will head off to Rio for the Olympic Games. This week, Scottish livestock farmers were encouraged to copy one of the athletes' programmes and aim for 'marginal gains' in the production of sheep and beef cattle.

QMS said farmers should aim for 'marginal gains' in sheep and cattle production. Picture: John Devlin

Douglas Bell of Quality Meat Scotland (QMS) claimed there was no single solution to the current slim profit margins in livestock production but there were a large number of areas where small changes could improve the bottom line in the balance sheet.

To help producers raise their game, he revealed QMS would later this summer launch a national benchmarking scheme which would allow individual farmers to check the performance of their cattle and sheep against national figures. He indicated the data would be gathered from a number of sources including QMS’s enterprise costing database and the Scottish Government’s farm accounts.

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Detailing some of the areas where marginal gains could be achieved, he listed a range of options, some, such as the weight of the calf at weaning relative to its dam’s weight, being based on physical data.

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Other areas where Scottish beef producers could help maintain the premium paid in the market for Scotch Beef and therefore their unit’s profitability included avoiding penalties imposed by processors for carcases that were overweight or out of the desired specification. Bell commented that Scotland did not come out well on this issue when compared with the rest of the UK.

Speaking at QMS’ “Rising to the Challenge” conference at Airth, Bell insisted he was not telling farmers what to do, rather he wanted to create opportunities for farmers to learn from other farmers. He was also keen to encourage change using modern technology.

Uel Morton, QMS’ chief executive, called for more openness and information sharing in the red meat food chain saying this would be essential in what he described as a “period of unprecedented change”.

One Perthshire hill farmer up for the challenge, John Ritchie, of Montalt, Dunning, revealed his family farm had already taken a five-figure subsidy hit and he expected this source of income to either reduce further or disappear altogether in the coming years.

“In order to survive, my goal is to have functional, lowmaintenance livestock which perform well on this type of land,” he said.