Is a mass exodus of UK egg producers on the cards?

02-05 | |
Free-range egg farmers in the UK report that market conditions had never been so bad. Photo: Alexas fotos
Free-range egg farmers in the UK report that market conditions had never been so bad. Photo: Alexas fotos

More than half of free-range egg producers are seriously considering halting production until they are paid a better price, according to a new survey.

With feed and energy costs rising dramatically, but not replicated in supermarkets, the British Free Range Egg Producers Association (Bfrepa) study also found that a further 18% said they would make their decisions at the end of the current flock. More than 70% added that would leave egg production within a year if a price rise wasn’t forthcoming.

Egg producers have been hit with huge hikes in production costs. Feeding hens is now 50% more expensive and energy prices are 40% higher. Spending on fuel has grown by 30%, while labour and packaging are also dearer.

“…it’s just becoming unviable.”

John Warne, an Exmoor free-range egg farmer on the Devon/Somerset border for the past 20 years, said market conditions had never been so bad. “Our main input costs are the feed costs and my feed price last month from the mill went up by £32/tonne (€38/tonne). So, we are currently paying £377/tonne (€449) for chicken feed – and the way it’s all going, the electric costs and all the other costs that are sort of going into it and when you restock with new hens those costs are going up – the pullet costs, and it’s just becoming unviable for people.”

Warne added that going forwards the feed bill increase in April was likely to be dwarfed by the rise in May: “It’s going to get harder and harder, and we’ll have to look as to whether we can continue or not. We must work 6 months in advance, ordering pullets to go into the sheds. Something will have to move somewhere or there will be a massive egg shortage as people cannot run an egg business at a loss.”

“This is nothing more than supermarkets putting cheap food marketing tactics above the needs of the primary producer.”

Robert Gooch, Bfrepa CEO, said: “There are clear and obvious cost increases being heaped upon farmers, and retailers simply aren’t sufficiently adjusting the retail price. Any increases being made are too little and too slow. They are suffocating businesses. This is nothing more than supermarkets putting cheap food marketing tactics above the needs of the primary producer.”

Gooch said he had asked every major retailer to increase the price of free-range eggs by at least 40p/dozen (€0.48) but only 2 retailers had even acknowledged the request, and none had done enough to meet additional costs.

The organisation has called a Crisis Summit, to take place at the Pig and Poultry Fair on 10 May, and invited representatives from all the major retailers to attend.

Tom Holder, British Retail Consortium spokesperson, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme long-standing relationships between retailers and suppliers were invaluable but it was a delicate balancing act between farmers who faced rising costs and households that were really struggling to make ends meet.

“We mustn’t have price rises across the board that prevent people from getting the goods they really need at a really difficult time,” he added.

Mcdougal
Tony Mcdougal Freelance Journalist
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