Great British Beef Week is upon us (April 23-30), and here, Jilly Greed, co-founder of Ladies in Beef, talks to Emily Ashworth about the importance of inspiring the nation.
It is quite the moment for Ladies in Beef, because this year sees the organisation celebrate 10 years of success.
The group consists of like-minded women who came together back in 2010, all with a shared desire to target consumers with positive messages about beef.
And this week, the Great British Beef Week campaign has been launched once more.
Jilly Greed, a beef and arable farmer from Devon, originally teamed up with Minette Batters, as they were both concerned about the rising negativity the beef industry attracted.
The event saw its first appearance with the launch of Ladies in Beef in 2010 at Beef South West, with Adam Henson the patron.
Jilly says: “It was born out of frustrations we both shared; that consumer messages were not resonating with the public about the quality of British beef, its versatility and its nutritional value.
“I don’t think that has changed either.
It has become more challenging and we must be, as a farming industry, really robust in facing the fact that we have changing consumer lifestyles and diets.
And a considerable amount of misunderstanding about nutrition.
“There has never been more of a need to inform and inspire in Great British Beef Week and get the messages to those who do not have a great deal of comprehension about how we rear our beef, particularly suckler beef.” To do this, it is mainly a consumer-facing campaign embracing every aspect of the supply chain, from farmers and abattoirs, to butchery, retailers and the hospitality industry.
It will also look at consumer trends, with batch cooking a focus.
It seems to be a strong trend, says Jilly, especially with so many families under restriction at home at the moment.
Also, the faces of Great British Beef Week are the Gay family, winners of the Farmers Guardian’s 2016 Family Farming Business of the Year Award, with Celia Gay and her daughter Kirsty heading up the campaign.
They are the perfect fit, she says, showing great entrepreneurial spirit.
But it also about encouraging communication.
Jilly says: “We are quite a fractured industry and not necessarily natural communicators.
"There has never been more of a need to inform and inspire in Great British Beef Week"
“We have all these anti-farming lobbyists who see [our industry] as a legitimate target in climate change and it is so easy to blame cows and to find excuses therefore to not eat beef.” About five years ago, Ladies In Beef created a consumer leaflet about buying British beef, and one of the focal points of the booklet was the fact that about half the population of young females in the UK are anaemic.
It is a staggering figure and these are the kind of nutritional misunderstandings Jilly wants to rectify.
She says: “You cannot find B12 in a plant-based diet and that is critical for the nervous system, but we could sound preachy and therein lies the problem.
“Young people are probably sussing out there is a lot of jumping on the band wagon to produce highly processed vegan or veggie foods.
“I think this is something we are not making enough noise about.” Labelling is another worry, as she continues to fight against misrepresentation.
She says: “You shouldn’t be allowed to call a vegan patty a burger or cauliflower a ‘steak’.
It has been proven in European Law; food manufacturers should not be allowed to do it, as it’s misleading nutritionally.” At home, Jilly runs a 200-head herd of suckler cows and youngstock across 243 hectares (600 acres), including an arable enterprise, with her husband Edwin and their son George.
They are keen to continue moving towards higher environmental practices, acknowledging the fact this plays a key part in selling their suckler beef story.
She says: “For the last five years we have been in the transition of zero or minimal tillage, which has been absolutely transformational.
“We’re in a mid-tier scheme, but it’s really a message that if you provide extra food sources or habitats, you can quite quickly reverse species decline.
“I think it is heartening to see how we’ve seen wildlife increase so quickly, in particular hedgehogs, hares and skylarks.
“We run a mob grazing system on permanent pasture and pollen and nectar herbal leys.
Cattle are moved every one or two days and it is a very efficient way to produce high quality grass-fed suckler beef.
“The change in farm policy is being driven environmentally and to reduce operational costs focusing on regenerative agriculture, animal welfare and looking after our soils.
“I am hoping that with the right positioning in the marketplace, plus promotion, it will awaken a new interest in our food production.” The family have been mindful of changes in the Basic Payment Scheme too, converting some of their old Victorian farm buildings into contemporary offices for small to medium businesses.
Jilly says: “It is making a really lovely community here.
Where there is market failure and there definitely is on suckler beef, you have to look for diversified income streams.” So what does she want to achieve from this year’s campaign, especially as it marks Ladies in Beef’s 10th anniversary? With about 150 members across the country, she naturally wants to recruit more members.
It would, she says, be nice to have more female beef producers from the north of the country getting involved.
But she wants this to give people a chance to stick their heads above the parapet and converse with consumers about this ‘iconic’ industry.
She also says it would help relay the benefits the industry can have on the environment and the nation’s health.
Jilly says: “I would like the industry to see Great British Beef Week as a chance to really get behind our Red Tractor Assured British product.
“We’ve found, for example, an individual telling their story on social media with beautiful pictures of cattle in the landscape cuts through alternative messages.
“We need to play these cards harder and more strategically.
“Everybody is welcome and we are looking for those who have a really strong desire for consumer communication to take part.”
The Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution (RABI) is again Great British Beef Week’s charity partner. RABI is farming’s oldest and largest charity and provides financial support, practical care and guidance to farming people of all ages.
Over the past eight years, Great British Beef Week has already helped generate about £90,000 for RABI since the charity first became involved in the campaign.
Unfortunately, due to Covid-19, the fundraising events have been cancelled, but donations can be made to support the work of RABI through its Just Giving page.