A farmer scheme to produce superior quality beef - Certified Irish Angus Beef 

 Introduction to the challenge addressed

Declan Ryan is a store to beef finisher, farming in County Offaly, Ireland on 16 ha of owned land and some extra rented lands. He purchases yearling to store animals originating in dairy herds and finishes c 50 beef heifers per annum, mainly from grass but also with silage and concentrates to enable year-round supply. To improve the quality of beef and economic returns, Declan jointed the Certified Irish Angus Beef Scheme. Animals are fattened to meet the specifications of the Certified Irish Angus Scheme and are sold at 18 to 24 months of age, weighing 520 to 550kgs live weight (average 270kgs carcase weight). 

The Certified Irish Angus Beef Scheme was developed by Irish farmers in 1995 to improve the eating quality of beef, especially beef progeny from the Irish dairy herds. The Irish dairy herd is made up of c1.55m dairy cows, mainly Holstein Friesian breed and as well as producing dairy replacements, progeny is used for the beef sector. Having identified the Angus as a very suitable breed for beef breeding on the dairy herd, a group of farmers set up the Certified Irish Angus Producer Group and developed a programme which has significantly improved the quality of beef meat from the dairy herd. 

Description of the Innovation 

The Certified Irish Angus Beef group has developed to become Ireland’s largest beef producer group, with 10,000 farmer members producing 135,000 head of cattle each year. Declan Ryan is a member of the scheme and his farm is also a member of the Bord Bia Sustainable Beef and Lamb Assurance Scheme (SBLAS). 

The group has developed a programme involving production and inspection which promotes excellence in Angus beef production. Every animal coming from farmer members is individually inspected by a team of 17 inspectors to ensure that they meet the high standards. Animals and members who do not comply with the regulations are rejected. 

Certified Angus Beef applies a triple lock system to safeguard and guarantee full traceability and quality. This involves 3 stages of inspection including a visual check to verify each animal on arrival by trained inspectors at the processing plant, regular random DNA testing at the meat plant and random sampling of retail packs from supermarkets to verify breed profile and full traceability. 

The programme also involves a price premium where farmer members receive an Angus bonus for animals that meet the specified criteria which include conformation score, fat score, weight range and compliance with breed traceability. Additional seasonal bonuses (20c/kg from mid-April to early June 2021) also apply and the programme operates a booking system for sales to match farmer supply and processor demand. 

The Group has partnered up with processors (ABP, Kepak, Slaney) and retailers (Tesco, Centra/Musgraves, Carnitalia, Carrefour, Hilton and O’ Brien Fine Foods). The group also have a Certified Irish Angus Chefs Club, which offers membership to select fine-dining establishments around Ireland that exclusively offer our Certified Irish Angus beef on their menus.  

Irish Angus beef is predominantly raised on grass-based diets grazing outdoors, imparting a superior flavour profile and tenderness to the beef. All product is Bord Bia Quality Assured, meeting the highest quality standards at every stage in the process. Certified Irish Angus is renowned for its natural marbling, with unique flecks of fat, which provide enhanced flavour, juiciness and adds to the succulence to the meat. This allows the beef to stay juicy during cooking, providing the best taste. 

The grass-based diet offers a reduced environmental impact due to the availability of this resource-efficient home-grown feed. Certified Irish Angus naturally mature early which results in fewer carbon emissions produced from each animal. The producer group recognise that beef farmers need to go even further to cut carbon emissions and encourage members to take additional carbon reducing measures. 

The scheme also runs a Certified Irish Angus School’s Competition each year, in conjunction with its processing partners, ABP and Kepak. Student groups nationwide are challenged to rear five Irish Angus calves and carry out research on a specific aspect of farming and beef production for 18 months with the aims to promote the Certified Irish Angus Beef brand to second-level students while communicating the care and attention required to produce quality beef for consumers.

Declan Ryan is also a member of the GLAS scheme (Green Low-Carbon Agri-environment Scheme) where he undertakes sustainability actions to enhance climate change, water quality and biodiversity benefits on his farm such as Wild bird cover, low input permanent pasture and bird boxes.

Impact on farm performance 

Being a member of the Certified Irish Angus Scheme has delivered many benefits for Declan Ryan’s farm. In terms of socio-economic resilience, the scheme delivers additional economic returns both in terms of additional price bonuses at final sale and also collective group strength in dealing with processors and retailers. 

On production efficiency and meat quality, the Angus scheme delivers a superior eating quality experience for consumers which in turn is reflected in a higher price premium at retail level, some of which is passed back to producers through the Angus price bonus. he higher quality status of the product delivers access to premium retail outlets. 

On environment sustainability, the Certified Irish Angus Schemes requires all farmer members to join the Bord Bia Sustainable Beef and Lamb Assurance Scheme (SBLAS) and also encourages members to participate in other enhanced sustainability and environmental schemes. In addition, the early maturing Angus breed enables animals to be sold at younger ages, thus reducing GHG emissions. 

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Farmer Comment 

“The Certified Irish Angus Scheme is very beneficial to my farming business and suits my system very well.  I also know they have my back on getting the best price from the factory”, Declan Ryan. 

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