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The winner of this year's Cogent Beef Futures award is convinced exploiting breeding technologies and genetics will drive herd profitability.

21 year old Alex Heath, a student at Harper Adams is closely involved with the development of the beef enterprise at the family farm near Market Drayton which is home to 50 pedigree Simmentals and 20 pedigree Limousins, as well as a 68,000 free range layer unit.

"Cogent's beef business is growing rapidly as more producers understand the commercial value of high index sires in delivering accelerated growth rates and superior carcase grades to generate higher margins," comments Sammie Wilson, Cogent's Beef Sire Analyst. "The Cogent Beef Futures Programme allows young beef farmers to gain a unique insight into developments in beef genetics and their place in developing profitable systems."

Alex was able to develop his knowledge of the beef industry, working alongside the Cogent team. He saw a range of farming practices and met key people from across the industry with varied approaches to beef production.

Following the farm tours he had to present his findings before putting his sales head on and pitching to sell a bull to the Beef Programme Manager. His prize for winning is an all-expenses paid trip to France in Spring 2017 including attendance at the Paris Show.

Alex Heath is convinced a commitment to quality genetics is essential for the continued development of a successful beef enterprise

"We want to build up a herd of modern Simmentals, with strong maternal traits, fine bone, width through the back end and plenty of shape, which is what the market is demanding at the moment.

"AI allows us access to a far greater pool of genetics so we can target specific traits. We are using AI on the Limousins to increase the overall merit of that part of the herd. It is used on some of the Simmentals to get outcross lines."

The family have also started using embryo transfer with three cows flushed per year. They now have three excellent daughters from their successful show cow by the leading sire Banwy Wonderboy.

"Showing is a key part of the business, providing a shop window for the sale of livestock and embryos. Increasing the influence of our best cows is a key aim for us, but you mustn't lose track of the main objectives of beef production.

"We want to breed efficient and profitable cattle, which will serve other people well, while producing killing cattle to hit market specifications with excellent growth rates and feed conversion. The foundations of our business are rearing top quality cattle from minimal concentrate inputs, utilising the milking ability of the dam whilst ensuring high growth rates and meat yields.

"Genetics are at the centre of achieving this. Embryo transfer allows us to target the best female lines to breed from, complementing them with AI from bulls with strong terminal traits. As an industry, the beef sector will need to determine how best to exploit the full potential of genetics to build its competitive position."

Sammie Wilson says selecting the finalists and eventual winner was a difficult task, commenting that the standard was extremely high. "The calibre of entrants highlights the talent available in the beef sector currently. We werereally excited about working with the finalists as they learned about different beef markets and gained unparalleled experiences which will help them build successful careers in the future."

Beef Furtures Winner Alex Heath