NFU Scotland is urging the Scottish Government and retailers to play their part in securing the future and growth of the Scottish chicken industry.
In a letter to Cabinet Secretary Richard Lochhead, Union President Nigel Miller has called on the Scottish Government to consider supporting public procurement body Scotland Excel, to ensure it can source more Scottish chicken. Given the short-term difficulties being faced by the sector, NFUS has asked Scottish Government to look at measures that may assist with any cost associated in Scotland Excel switching supplies to ensure more Scottish chicken is included in this important area for of the market for chicken.
Miller has asked that specific funding is made available with a stipulation that chicken for local authority contracts comes from growers in Scotland, keeping these producers operating until such times as the recent disruption to processing capacity in Scotland can be addressed.
At the end of November last year, 2 Sisters Food Group announced plans to restructure its Scottish operations creating an uncertain future for many chicken growers in Scotland. 2 Agriculture, the business which supplies poultry to 2 Sisters, offered new contracts to growers from the East Central region of Scotland who are located within close proximity to the Letham and Coupar Angus processing plants. Organic growers were also offered contracts after a period of uncertainty.
However, there is a group of non-organic growers in the North of Scotland and in the Dumfries and Galloway regions who are still under notice of termination and who will not be offered new contracts. The Union believes safeguarding the grower base in both the north and the south west will be the foundation stone for future new jobs in processing and a crucial pathway to gaining value from planned investment.
The Union also wrote to retailers who source chicken from 2 Sisters Food Group. In the letter, Miller urges the supermarkets to consider sourcing more fresh chicken from Scotland. A greater commitment from retailers to Scottish chicken would help secure the critical mass of Scotland's competitive high welfare grower base and open the door to a more diverse product offer when planned investment in the sector comes on stream.
"We are at a crucial juncture for those growers in Scotland who are facing an uncertain future. The growers in the north of Scotland alone produce more than 6 million chickens per year and are therefore central to any future growth of the industry in Scotland," said Miller.
"The future prosperity of these growers has significant knock-on implications for Scottish agriculture as a whole, as they require more than 20,000 tonnes of Scottish cereals a year when rearing their birds for the table.
"Further processing capacity in Scotland is being considered and the creation of this will be a positive development, with the potential for jobs and the growth of the industry. However, such processing capacity takes time to get in place and if there is not an effort made during the intermittent period to keep the producer base in all parts of Scotland, it will be almost impossible to achieve the potential that this industry holds.
"That is why we call on the Scottish Government to offer some kind of financial support in the interim period to keep these growers in production, and we believe that this is best targeted at Scotland Excel where there is scope and some appetite for sourcing Scottish chicken for public contracts.
"With regards to the retailers, we ask that they consider carefully the implications of their future sourcing practices of Scottish chicken, and their help can ensure we keep chicken production going across the country. We ask for their support in retaining the production from these growers, through maximising the volume or range of products that they source in Scotland," Miller concluded.