Comment: We need our assurance schemes to advocate for us

By Charles Bourns, broiler grower, Gloucestershire

Firstly, can I say how proud I am of our industry that at a time of extreme pressure, we as farmers have managed the task of completing the installation of windows by the end of June 2021. The Red Tractor Board helped by extending the deadline by an extra three months.

This why when I see Chris Packham’s petition (he wants to ban standard chicken and has started a petition) with the picture of a very emotive and totally unrepresentative chicken on it, I become very annoyed.

I, like most farmers, have over the years destocked my farm, and refurbished it to keep up with modern standards of hygiene and food safety. I’ve put in windows and given the chicken perches, bales of straw and items to play with and this has all been done totally unsubsidised whilst competing with cheap sub -tandard imports and giving the consumer a tremendous value for money product, but still I have to put up with the likes of Chris Packham vilifying the industry.

The petition was made all the more incredible after I attended the NFU’s scientific webinars this month, which showed how the industry is likely to progress in the future.

I do ask where are the people that have asked me and other farmers to do all these things with our sheds?  Where are they when we need them? Surely it is not unreasonable for us to expect them to jump to our defence? After all, they audit us whenever they want to and often at very short notice. Surely, they could say how proud they are of the job we are doing on their customers’ behalf.

Before we left the EU I marched with other European farmers on the European parliament to present a booklet called Facts about Meat production. It tries to answer some of the myths the NGOs put out about meat production. Maybe we need to do the same. The campaign in the EU is run by all sectors of the industry including feed.

This month I have also I have been working with ADAS and Defra on trying to find out the true cost of producing the Better Chicken Commitment (BCC) chicken against the standard chicken. I have been trying to emphasise that at present I am paid extra per kilo which reflects the extra cost of production, but the system – due to the destocking – does increase costs including things like gas, so maybe rather than subsidising the finished product that will distort the market maybe those farms that want to produce the BCC chicken could receive a refurbishment grant or one for equipment such as heat exchangers. This is what is done in Ireland. ADAS is looking for more farmers to take part and it is not too onerous so give it a go.

On the farm I, as usual, can never leave what I do alone. Following an Aviagen 420 club zoom where we looked the problem of farms stopping growing around 21/25 days some growers said they were using Biacton Zoolac on the change from growing to finishing so I am going to give it a go. I will let you know the result! The conclusion of the group was that this slow down is gut related.

I will end asking you all two questions.  Firstly, will there be LPG available at a competitive price in 10 years’ time as it is a by product of the petroleum industry? Secondly, do you think is it possible the lighting rules are causing the modern chicken some of its problems? The modern chicken is totally different to the chicken we used to grow. Maybe some work needs to be done on this? Just a thought!


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