Comment: Red Tractor is offering a window of opportunity

By Charles Bourns, broiler producer and egg & poultry chair, Copa-Cogeca

This has been a month of non-stop Zoom meetings, which has helped pass the time, although it would be great to meet people face-to-face and hear their news properly.

One Zoom call was with the Red Tractor Poultry Board. There was much discussion about the requirement for windows in all houses by 1 January 2021, this date being an extension from the original date of October this year. Due to COVID-19, an additional extension was asked for as 8% of farms do not yet have windows.

Red Tractor’s position reflects the understanding that some members will have experienced delays with installing windows due to the lockdown over the summer.  The Poultry Board agreed that Certification Bodies can now extend the close out period for this standard to 1 January 2021, providing members with an additional three-month period to meet this standard. 

It was decided that in exceptional circumstances Certification Bodies may be able to extend the derogation for a short period, provided that a demonstrable plan to install windows at the next available opportunity to do so can be evidenced.  For any extensions to be considered, Certification Bodies will need a clear plan and timeline in place for the work to be done so that ongoing compliance can be monitored.

I hope that this concession will help some of you to remain part of the Red Tractor who may otherwise have left.

The board decided against a blanket derogation because it was felt some would try and push the deadline still further away and 92% already do have windows, either at 3% or the 1%, so it would not be fair on those farmers.

As you know, we have been growing Enhanced Welfare Chicken, but next crop we are going back to standard. This is not because of the low sales, but for a very different reason. There is a poultry site in Somerset that was redeveloped and enlarged with permission and an IPPC licence. Unfortunately,  the locals started to complain about the smell and despite the number of birds being decreased to below the pre-enlargement numbers and every conceivable measure being taken, the Environment Agency has said the site is still giving off too much odour. So as a final throw of the dice my chicks along with two other farmers’ are being placed in the site at 12.4 birds a square metre. If the odour is still deemed to be too much the site will lose its licence to grow chicken. We will have to see what happens from here. It is wrong I feel that the Environment Agency can give the go-ahead to such a farm and then not stand by their decision.

I have also had meetings with the European Commission this month. It is always useful to know what they are doing as ultimately it will affect us. The good news I have is that the chicken that was flooding in from the Ukraine no longer is. After much negotiation that flow has been plugged and at present none of that specific cut (the breast with a small piece of wing attached) is being imported. That does not mean that there are no imports from the Ukraine – there are. But the Ukraine has signed up now to EU welfare standards and has until 2026 to implement them.

We have argued with the Commission for a storage grant and other monies as compensation due to COVID-19 but none is forthcoming. It seems the poultry industry’s size and self-reliance has counted against it.

The Commission has just launched a new Farm to Fork initiative and within this there could be help for the poultry sector to become more efficient. The initiative not only includes farming it also will include dietry requirements; they also want to encourage organic farming to be 25% of the farmed area by 2030, using maybe VAT rates to encourage it. They are also saying that less meat should be eaten but have excluded poultry from this. They have said COVID-19 has shown that the EU as a whole needs to be more self sufficient in food. The emphasis is as a whole so each country producing what it is best at.

 Back at home I have still been delivering eggs for my son in Bristol and it is interesting to see how food service is slowly opening up. My little tuc tuc van sales are reverting to normal – two boxes a week plus some trays of eggs. He offers his customers 20p off if they return their boxes, which works well, maybe this is something other small outlets could be encouraged to do?

Lastly, I have just been speaking to my supplier of straw bales and he tells me that although he has a reasonable contract, some are talking about prices as high as £140 per tonne delivered, because of the poor straw yield. The worst yield I have heard of is a tonne per acre. In fact, the yield of straw is so bad that an arable farmer local to me said he would just chop it up and plough it in. The Red Tractor has given a derogation for enrichment bales during COVID due to the lack of shavings. Maybe it needs reintroducing due to the lack of straw this harvest.


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