Alliance Group and M&S launch research project

One of the country’s largest meat processor and exporters Alliance Group and the iconic UK retailer Marks & Spencer are to launch a research project after signing a sole-supply chilled lamb deal.

The Marks & Spencer-supported research will examine the effect of different environments and types of feed on lamb growth rates, carcase weight and yield of New Zealand lambs.

A delegation from Marks & Spencer has just completed a visit to New Zealand to discuss the research and the major supply contract.

Murray Behrent, group livestock manager at Alliance Group, says the research project and exclusive contract for Pure South lamb demonstrated the strengthening relationship between the two companies.

“The research and the exclusive contract is great news for Alliance Group and our suppliers. We have enjoyed a 20 year partnership with Marks & Spencer, which is well-known for its loyal customer base for lamb. Alliance Group is looking forward to supplying more premium products to this important market and commencing this key piece of research to help improve the returns to our suppliers.

“All Alliance Group products supplied to Marks & Spencer will be sourced from registered M&S Select farms so that the co-operative can provide traceability for the UK retailer.”

Steve McLean, head of agriculture and fisheries sourcing at Marks & Spencer, says: “We have been impressed with the way that the Alliance Group’s lamb products have performed over the past 12 months and the feedback from our customers has been excellent. Alliance Group’s commitment to traceability, the strength of its research and development programme and the quality of the livestock provided by its suppliers were key factors in our decision to sign this contract and collaborate in this research.”

The Pacesetter research project, which follows an earlier study carried out in 2011, will be undertaken at Alliance Group supplier Lone Star Farms station in Middlemarch.

Lone Star Farms has noticed large variations in lamb meat yield, from property to property, and throughout the season. They are interested in the influence that non-genetic factors, such as type of forage and sex of lamb, have on growth rates, carcase weight and meat yield throughout the season and how they can alter these to optimise production and profit on-farm.

Jo Kerslake, the consultant at AbacusBio conducting the research, said preliminary results from the 2011 trial showed yield decreased over time with lambs yielding highest off their mother in January (56.1 percent), decreasing by two percent in February and March, decreasing another 0.6 percent in April and another 0.6 percent in May. No large differences were observed between lambs of different breed or sex but some differences were observed for lambs grazing different forages.

“This decreasing trend in yield throughout the season is often questioned by farmers. While it is well known that genetics can influence overall yield, the influence of forage type, environment type and management on lamb meat yield over time is not so well known.

“A second trial is being carried out to better quantify the effect of forage and environment type and will include irrigated lucerne, irrigated ryegrass, dryland ryegrass and dryland fescue.”

As part of the trial, 1,000 lambs were electronically tagged at weaning, with weight, age and sex recorded. Lambs are randomly split over the four different forage and environment types to be assessed. The lambs will be re-weighed at fortnightly drafts and processed with individual lambs being tracked to Alliance Group’s VIAscan® information.

“To understand the impact that forage and environment type, sex of lamb, and time of season has on growth rates and yield, it will be important to try and assess these factors independent of feed restriction or parasite challenges,” she said.

“To ensure we get a clear picture, lambs will be fed to their full potential, parasites controlled, weather and soil temperature recorded and pasture amount and qualities measured”.

Alliance Group is a co-operative owned by approximately 5,000 farmer shareholders and is the world’s largest processor and exporter of sheepmeat.

Marks & Spencer is one of the UK’s leading retailers with more than 21 million customers every week. The company employs over 82,000 people in the UK and abroad, and has over 700 UK stores, plus an expanding international business with over 50 different territories around the world.

Alliance Group supplied material.

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