Farmers get connected

Up to 250 beef farmers in the West Midlands region can look forward to enhancing their business competitiveness when they enroll on a £1 million comprehensive e-commerce course.

The innovative Farm Connections scheme is aimed at integrating beef producers into the professional supply chain with a package which includes the provision of laptops, beef enterprise software and full support and software training.

Farm Connections, which will also run in the South West and Wales, was developed out of a partnership between Sainsbury's, major meat processor Anglo Beef Processors (ABP), and the Red Meat Industry Forum (RMIF), an organisation set up to help the British red meat industry recapture and maintain a leading position in the marketplace.

The training, part-funded by regional development agency Advantage West Midlands' Rural Regeneration Zone (RRZ), will allow farmers to view a range of vital data via a click of a button - from information on carcass quality to the latest market stats and consumer trends.

The aim of the course is to help farmers in the West Midlands understand their costs. Training for Farm Connections starts in the region this month and runs to March 2008. It serves as a timely incentive to farmers keen to develop their business skills as they adjust to reduced subsidy support and increased global competitiveness.

The aim of the course is to help farmers understand their costs. Content includes:

? Demand planning and forecasting so farmers can plan better for cattle deliveries;

? Software containing information about herd management and carcass quality;

? E-business - allowing access to online discounts from suppliers and other online services such as Defra's e-form filling, calf registration, BCMS (British Cattle Movement Services), EBLEX (English Beef and Lamb Executive) information and filing of tax returns.

Ian Edwards, head of rural partnerships at Advantage West Midlands, said: "It is important that our region's farmers are not excluded from advantages open to all other small businesses and that during these difficult times for beef farmers, in particular, it is vital that they develop a competitive edge. We believe that this project will help with that."

A shock recent survey of 2500 red meat producers in England, conducted by RMIF, indicated only between 20 and 30 per cent of them held farm accounts on computers, with only 50 per cent able to receive email.

Farm Connections, which was launched in Oxford earlier in the year, is available to all suppliers of Sainsbury's Taste the Difference, So Organic and Jamie Oliver 21-day Matured Beef and has already signed up participants from Shropshire, Herefordshire, Worcestershire, Warwickshire and Staffordshire for training.