RED meat producers must wake up to the new world in which they are about to operate.

They must cut costs, increase efficiency, and produce what customers want - not what they think they should want.

Speaker after speaker repeated that it would involve everyone in the food chain working and talking together. All agreed it must happen now.

Dr Chris Brown, Asda's agriculture development manager, said new relationships were needed within the livestock supply chain. "The present structures are too fragmented," he said. "We have to get information flowing up and down the chain."

Jonathan Birnie, responsible for animal procurement and meat quality research with the Dungannon Meat Group, said the conference was not talking rocket science. "The question is, are you going to do it and what are you going to do about it," he said. It was vital for all parties in a supply chain to talk to each other.

Developing a chain needed long-term commitment. "There have been too many farmer co-operatives lost for the sake of going for 2p up the road; you have to think long-term," said Mr Birnie.

Sean Rickard, of the Cranfield School of Management, said domestic consumption of red meat per head was unlikely to rise.

"We have got to get real about the world in which we live and adjust ourselves to that world," he said. "We have an industry which needs to think about value, rather than quantity. The goal of red meat chains must be to create and capture more value."

To achieve that, farmers must think of working together as a farmer-controlled business but, to reduce costs and become more efficient and effective, they should also create a small farmer group within it, to concentrate on working, and building up trust, with a processor.

"That is my idea of a supply chain," said Mr Rickard. "They are focused not on a food market but on a market segment; not only to supply it but to learn about it to help them reinforce their competitive position."

With complete trust, savings could be achieved, for example by doing away with the need for a contract. An awful lot of costs were created in drawing up, exchanging and enforcing contracts.

An overriding criticism of the food chain was the absence of trust and the adversarial atmosphere. Mr Rickard said individual farmers could not improve efficiency anything like as well as when they worked together with others. "We need an absolute commitment to collaboration," he said. "But it can be successful only if all participants adopt a mindset of goodwill and trust."