Funded by Innovate UK, the United Kingdom’s non-governmental research and innovation organisation, this £1.75 million research and development project functions through a collective team made up of experts within the beef industry, scientists and precision engineering companies. The collective goal of OPTI-BEEF is to enhance returns for beef producers while enabling processors to become more efficient in their practices.
OPTI-BEEF aims to develop on-farm and in-abattoir technologies that successfully automate and optimise the on-farm selection of animals for slaughter as well as accurate carcass evaluation. The project integrates automated data gathered across the whole life of individual beef animals (from calf all the way to the carcass). The purpose of this is to create an enhanced decision support platform to modernise, standardise, and drive efficiency improvements across the UK beef supply chain.
The current, established method of classifying cow carcasses relies entirely on manual human judgement. It is becoming increasingly challenging to recruit and properly train enough staff in the industry, and that training process can take a year to complete.
For both of these reasons, there is an extensive inefficiency in the UK beef sector. Farmers and beef producers routinely assess the physical appearance and performance of their animals by eye. A frequent problem is that cows are retained on the farm too long, resulting in the animals becoming too fat. This commonly leads to increased variable farm costs, reduced annual capacity of beef finishing units and a sub-optimal price paid for carcasses.
The farmer is not the only player affected either. Over-fat animals also increase the primary processing costs for abattoirs and have a higher environmental impact per kg of product produced. Similarly, beef carcasses are also subjectively assessed by an abattoir by eye, meaning the price paid to the producer can vary significantly. A widespread lack of confidence in the reliability of carcass evaluation makes it difficult for producers and buyers to agree on quality-based payments that reflect the true value of carcasses.
In response to the challenges the beef industry faces, OPTI-BEEF’s key objective is to harness the power of precision agriculture in order to properly monitor the lifetime productivity of cows while effectively evaluating the product quality.
OPTI-BEEF drives improvements in the productivity, quality and the sustainability of beef production by fine-tuning the accuracy of currently used methods of abattoir carcass grading through the first digital platform that integrates data all the way from ‘calf to carcass’.
OPTI-BEEF developed on-farm technologies that monitor the whole life of individual animals such as 3D cameras, fat sensing equipment, automated weighing and data collection to record feed intake levels. In the abattoir, the OPTI-BEEF digital system uses the same 3D imaging and fat sensing technology to provide a more accurate and detailed measurement of carcasses and the quality of their internal components.
By integrating a standardised system of the data gathered on-farm and in the abattoir sheds light on the key factors that influence carcass yield and drive improvements in product quality and price consistency for producers and buyers. On top of that, through the data collected and the information provided, farmers are better equipped to make informed decisions to optimise the nutrition, health, welfare, slaughter selections and genetic selections of their animals.
Through precision agricultural technology solutions, the OPTI-BEEF project has developed an automated classification technology that allows service and price levels for farmers and processors to be maintained, standardised and able to be continually adjusted and improved with optimum accuracy. The holistic approach of the technology provides a robust way forward to effectively meet the current challenges the beef industry faces.
The on-farm element of the project ensures that livestock is arriving at the abattoir at the optimum point and in the best conditions. The impact of this is a reduction in the number of animals which do not meet the abattoir’s specifications at the point of slaughter.
Through greater insight and knowledge of their animals, farmers are better positioned to optimise returns by helping them to be more selective on-farm, leading to greater efficiencies through the beef production and processing chain.
The original project duration was from 01/05/2019 to 01/03/2022, however, the project timeframe will likely be impacted by COVID-19 disruptions.