Comment: Hopefully this crisis will remind people the value of British agriculture

By Charles Bourns, broiler grower and chair of poultry & eggs working group, Copa Cogeca

We have just finished our last standard bird flock before moving to Better Chicken Commitment chicken and as expected it has been one of our best, which sods law would have predicted anyway.

Onwards and upwards as they say. I just hope the BCC chicken performs equally as well and crucially sells, because we’ve been here before with Freedom Foods in 2008/9. At least this time we have not had to adapt our sheds.

The other week I attended the Aviagen roadshow, which as usual triggered some interesting thoughts. I have always believed that water quality and biosecurity were paramount, but I have never thought that much about light quality.

Years ago I put in fluorescents which I found upset the chickens so I went back to tungsten but when I put in the LED lights a few years ago I did not think about the wavelength of the bulb used or whether it flickered or not. Some flickering is not visible to you and I but it is to the chicken. This occurred to me especially as we have windows. I also did not realise that I needed a different light metre now to measure the lux in the shed under LEDs. This is all probably me being slow on the uptake…

At the roadshow I asked if it was possible they could breed a chicken resistant to cocci. They said they can, but due to the very low heredibility it will take a little time. We as an industry are under attack to stop the use of coccidostats. Maybe we will, but it will take a while. Just as the egg industry has been under pressure to stop beak tipping and the breeders are trying to breed a more docile brown egg layer so the industry can take on the challenge of developing a cocci-resistant bird.

I have also been to a Red Tractor meeting. They will be running an even bigger advertising campaign this year, which is great. The campaign is funded by the license fee paid by the processor. The new Red Tractor regime is progressing well with poultry, as expected, coming out on top. So, keep it up! I know it takes up time. The only change that upset me is that you need to complete two courses each year on your passport and not one as it has been to date.

As I write we are in the thick of the coronavirus attack and panic buying. But it is panic buying or is it just that people can no longer go out for a meal and are therefore eating at home? One well known chicken restaurant is down 68% since this all began and discount retailers are up 39.7% on their Christmas sales. Eggs are selling well and the supply has not been helped by the low path AI, which has taken out of production more than one million birds.

On a positive note, my daughter works for a company that refunds VAT at airports and she told me that whilst business is down the Chinese are back in Dubai shopping so at least there is light at the end of the tunnel.

I do hope that consumers and retailers will appreciate how well we have looked after them and will BUY BRITISH and at the right price.


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