Comment: how can poultry show it’s delivering a ‘public good’?

By Gary Ford, chief poultry advisor, National Farmers’ Union

What does improving productivity mean? I hear from a lot of people that they think it means simply producing more. For me, this isn’t the case. I believe it’s all about farming smarter and more efficiently.

It’s important we make this distinction when we’re making the case for the poultry sector, as well as agriculture as a whole, in the Government’s future domestic agricultural policy. We know there will be a ‘public money for public good’ approach, so how can we best deliver within that framework?

In recent weeks and months, the NFU poultry team has been meeting with both Defra and industry colleagues to discuss just this. We see opportunity for our sector and believe we have a lot to offer.

The building blocks are already there for us to improve our productivity. Whether it is further improving our already high levels of animal welfare or installing the newest technology in poultry houses – these all help to make what may seem like marginal gains but will lead to significant improvements in the long run.

Poultry delivers a high-quality product with extremely high levels of animal welfare, as well as delivering for the environment. Poultry farmers will already be planting trees and shrubs, for example to enhance the range area in free range systems, and this also helps provide habitat for wildlife and pollinators, contributing to our sectors ambition to reach net-zero.

Strides in automation are also having a significant impact in improving efficiency. For example, installation of egg packers at the farm level or on a larger scale in packing centres all helping to reduce the sector’s reliance on labour. This helps businesses become more efficient but it also plays a part in providing a solution for some businesses to the labour issues many in the sector are facing.

Automation however is not an ‘easy’ option as it requires significant investment and automation cannot fully replace people – a stockperson can be aided by technology but never replaced.

Productivity can often be misunderstood but it is something that we will all need to be thinking about moving forward, and I believe we are only just scratching the surface of what poultry businesses can deliver.


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