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Wales probes auto grading revolution; Preliminary funding bid for abattoir trial driven by Nuffield winner.

Byline: ANDREW FORGRAVE Rural Affairs Editor

WALES could find itself at the forefront of efforts to modernise the way lamb carcasses are graded in the UK.

Red meat body Hybu Cig Cymru has submitted a preliminary bid for funding from the Welsh Government to trial an automated carcass-grading system at abattoirs in Wales.

The initiative has been driven by Powys beef and sheep farmer John Yeomans, whose role recently earned him the Bullock Award from the Nuffield Farming Trust.

The award is given each year to the Nuffield scholar from the previous decade judged to have made the most effective use of their Nuffield experience since they completed their research.

Mr Yeomans, of Llwyn y Brain, Adfa, Newtown, helped to bring key industry players together to agree on a preferred grading system and draw up plans for a potential trial.

The group, which includes supermarkets, meat processors and other industry bodies, met at last week's Royal Welsh Winter Fair to agree on a funding bid.

"It was a great honour to win the award but I've had lots of help along the way," said Mr Yeomans.

"I've also been fortunate to have great support from HCC and, hopefully, the Welsh Government too."

Mr Yeomans undertook his Nuffield scholarship in 2006, motivated by the inadequacies of the current, EU-backed carcassclassification system.

This, he said, failed to adequately reward farmers like him who had managed to drive up lean meat yields from their stock.

Based on the Europ grid, the current system measures hindquarter shape and fat cover, with human graders using their judgement to classify each carcass against the grid.

"I understand the difficulties that graders face, but if you put three of them in a room, all trained the same way, each would come up with three different grades for the same animal," he said.

Royal Welsh |champion from R Slade, "The current system was introduced in the 1970s in response to intervention and is no longer relevant.

"Customers don't ask for an E3L leg of lamb and all imported meat is not graded this way."

The Europ current system also produces an imbalance in carcass values, he said.

"The loin makes up 12-15% of the weight of a lamb carcass but it accounts for about 50% of the value," he said.

Winter Fair carcase pair Hereford A study commissioned by HCC has identified a preferred system for auto grading.

Mr Yeomans believes any trial, if it went ahead, should retain the Europ system for a transition period lasting seven years.

It should be open and transparent so that farmers knew where they stood, with upheaval limited between competing abattoirs, he added.

HCC said the project promised compelling benefits but stressed it was still at an early planning stage.

Prys Morgan, HCC's head of operations, said: "We are looking for funding for a project which, if implemented, could make a significant difference to the supply chain in Wales."


Royal Welsh Winter Fair |champion carcase pair from R Slade, Hereford

John Yeomans receives the Bullock Award from Stephen Fell, a trustee of the Nuffield Farming Scholarships Trust

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Publication:Daily Post (Conwy, Wales)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Dec 10, 2015
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