Beefing up farmers' IT skills

Beef farmers are being encouraged to boost their IT skills with the launch of a new scheme.

The Sainsbury's backed Farm Connections scheme, supported by the industry and launched at the Oxford Farming Conference today by chief executive Justin King, follows research which showed only 20% of UK farmers used IT to manage their business.

Now an initial group of 500 beef producers will be given computers, software and training to bring them into the 21st century.

King said it would improve the competitiveness of British beef. "Farm Connections will enable beef farmers and producers to exchange information with their supply chain partners and so help drive down costs and improve the competitiveness of British beef.

"I am convinced the project will make a positive difference to our producers including providing information relating to customer habits and trends and significantly help them in their businesses."

Sainsbury's partners in the project, which will provide the producers with computers, management software and local training and support, are The Red Meat Industry Forum (RMIF), meat processor Anglo Beef Processors (ABP) and the Regional Development Agencies (RDAs) for the West Midlands and the South West.

Martin Grantley Smith, of RMIF, added: "For the first time some beef producers will now be able to use technology to help them see beyond the farm gate and take a whole chain approach to their businesses.

Richard Cracknell, chief executive of ABP, said: "Farm Connections will address every stage of IT literacy from how to switch on the PC and sending an email to exchanging market information with their buyers and filling in Defra forms."

The IT training and support will be delivered via schemes sponsored by the Regional Development Agencies for the West Midlands and the South West.