UK turkey producers face a questionable year ahead due to bird flu, labour availability and rising costs following a mixed Christmas.
Seasonal producers are uncertain as to whether to reduce production or even stay in business. Some have been affected by avian influenza, and the required secondary cleansing and disinfection measures mean they will not be able to open their sheds to produce turkeys this year.
Others are battling the rising energy costs that are making it incredibly hard to predict the costs of production and, on top of that, labour shortages are making it an extremely challenging time for the sector.
This follows a mixed Christmas, which saw reasonable returns for most producers, but some found sales were slow and were left with a surplus of birds at the end of the year. There is a feeling in the sector that after a very good Christmas in 2021 due to the Covid-19 lockdown and families having a more traditional Christmas, the most recent festive period had been less heartening. This, they felt, was due to increased media coverage of avian influenza, causing consumers to buy different joints or frozen birds.
Edward Calcott, a seasonal turkey producer at Calcott Turkeys, Staffordshire, said it would be important this year to only place what you know you can sell based on the year before: “You need to keep speaking to your customers as you cannot afford to carry any spare stock because we all know a fresh turkey after Christmas Day is hardly worth anything. We have got to demonstrate good business acumen.”
Aimee Mahony, NFU chief poultry adviser, said the government’s decision to provide 2,000 visas for the seasonal poultry sector until 2024 was welcome, but there was not enough time to fully utilise them, and some had not been used because of the impact avian influenza had on some farms.
She said it would be useful to hear from producers on how they had successfully recruited or struggled to access required labour as this would help in the union’s lobbying efforts and could be used in information-gathering exercises such as the ongoing independent labour review.
Michael Bailey, outgoing NFU turkey group chair, added: “If labour is a limiting factor to your business, then we need your case studies to submit to Defra. The submission can be anonymous, but we need to know the attempts you have made for recruiting people and if they have been successful or not.”