Triumphant Anne inspired to support breeding of quality Aberdeen Angus by Scottish roots
A former agriculture inspector has described how her Scottish roots led her to nurture the breeding of Aberdeen Angus beef cattle in Northern Ireland.
Anne Morrison's commitment to Aberdeen Angus and establishing a successful supply chain led to her winning the Belfast Telegraph Cup for outstanding contribution to agriculture at the Ulster Farmers' Union annual dinner last week.
Mrs Morrison is well-known in dairy farming as a former milk inspector. She first came to Northern Ireland in 1969 to lecture at Loughry College and later married farmer James Morrison.
But it was her extra-curricular interest in Aberdeen Angus which led to her accolade at Friday night's dinner.
Anne, who lives in Middletown in Co Armagh, was a founder of the Aberdeen Angus Quality Beef Ltd (AAQB), which encouraged farmers in the breeding of the cattle and ultimately helped establish a link with Foyle Food Group. It now has 500 members.
The company began buying Aberdeen Angus beef from Northern Ireland farmers, ultimately reaching a deal to supply Tesco in Northern Ireland and later Tesco in Great Britain.
Anne said: "Because I'm Scottish I had an affinity with Aberdeen Angus. I'm from Perthshire in the middle of Scotland, which is the headquarters of the Aberdeen Angus Society."
In 1995, she started looking into encouraging the breeding of Aberdeen Angus and worked with the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD) on a feasibility study. They found there was scope for the market. One year later, and bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) - known as mad cow disease - led to a crisis in the beef industry.
But Anne and her associates continued, and established the AAQB. At that point, food provenance wasn't discussed at all - and unlike the present obsession with food origin and traceability, the phrase 'Aberdeen Angus' meant nothing.
"Really, Aberdeen Angus hadn't been perceived at all. It really wasn't heard of," said Anne.
Instead, beef herds were dominated by continental breeds such as Charolais and Limousin, rather than the indigenous breeds like Herefords, Aberdeen Angus and Shorthorn.
"We had an approach from a butcher about supplying Aberdeen Angus because at that time there was none being sold - instead, everything went in and was described as cattle," added Anne.
She said the association began the supply to the butcher, ensuring there was enough for a weekly supply.
Later, the relationship with Foyle Meats - later Foyle Food Group - developed and continues to this day, with farmers of Aberdeen Angus herds still supplying Tesco and receiving bonuses.
"We really were ahead of our time, and we were very fortunate that Foyle had the vision to invest in developing a niche market," she said.
And as for the appeal of Aberdeen Angus beef?
"It's great steak beef, great roasting beef - it really works with every dish. It's finely-textured, tender and juicy, it really is the connoisseur's beef," she said.
Presenting Anne with the cup, UFU president Barclay Bell said: "For over 20 years Anne has been a driving force behind the promotion and marketing of Aberdeen Angus beef in Northern Ireland.
"Since 1998, she has been the non-exec director and secretary of the Aberdeen Angus Quality Beef Ltd (AAQB).
"Anne has worked hard to build relationships with meat processors and retailers, such as Foyle Meats and Tesco, on behalf of the co-operative and has been instrumental in recruiting AAQB members.
"As a result of Anne's hard work and clever marketing, the AAQB has gone from strength to strength."
And Anne thanked Foyle Food Group, Tesco and AAQB's members for their support over the years.
She added: "Together we have made it work and hopefully it will continue for many years to come."