By Charles Bourns, broiler grower and chair of poultry & eggs working group, Copa Cogeca
I know that there are many issues caused by COVID-19, but I still feel as a farmer extremely lucky because although I may be locked down most of the time at least I can get out into the fresh air.
I am more than a little frustrated to see European chicken on the shelves of some retailers. Yes, it was bought before the foodservice market closed but I do think it is a slap in the face for us and does show how we must work together.
My two highlights of my week are one, a trip to the supermarket, and two on a Saturday I go to my son’s farm to make egg boxes and then do a delivery in Bristol for him. Luckily, he designed his own box, which is patented, so he is not experiencing packaging shortages. It is made of cardboard but has to be put together. Before the virus he dealt mainly with foodservice and his customers bought them on keys trays. He is now selling all his eggs in six-packs to the public and is selling out.
Another skill I have learnt is how to do Zoom meetings, which I have found have kept me in touch with the broader outside world. The other day I had a meeting with Copa Cogeca members in Europe. It highlighted to me the strength of their co-operative system. They too have lost the foodservice sector, but I learnt from my Danish counterpart they were able to use the co-operative system to switch the birds from one to the other.
All countries have had problems with speciality products such as, quail, pigeon, duck and goose that would have gone to restaurants. The eastern European countries are having problems from cheap imports but not labour, due to the fact that many of their workers have come home from the UK.
Cold stores and freezers are also full throughout Europe and we have written to the Commission along with AVEC to ask them to limit imports from third countries of frozen product until this overhang in the market place is removed as it seems ridiculous to import frozen products when we have European product sat in cold stores.
We discussed the egg market which is 139% up in Europe and the point was made by the members that if it was not for the colony cage system the egg industry would not have been able fulfil this demand. We have pointed this out to the Commission to but I am sure it is also applicable to the UK market.
At home we have growing our first crop of the ASK chicken for Tesco’s Room to Roam range. Well, I am certainly finding them different to grow! They are so much more flighty and suspicious of everything that we have to be so careful and stick to a routine. Last night I went into the houses for their nighttime check and was wearing a red T-shirt. I normally wear blue, and to say they did not like it was an under statement! The eldest shed is 28 days in, so we have 21 days to go and then we will see the financial result. Having refurbished the sheds three years ago, this is very important, vital, in fact.