Comment: Rocketing fuel costs are pushing us towards solar

By Charles Bourns, Gloucestershire broiler grower 

On the farm we always try and think where we might be in five years time and what will be the limiting factors, especially as my son wants to take over the farm. I believe the biggest factors will be energy costs, both LPG and electricity, especially as we have moved over to RSPCA Assured or Red Tractor Enhanced Welfare chicken.

My concerns are these: firstly, will LPG be available? I believe it is a by-product of the petroleum industry and if we have electric cars, vans and lorries there be a great deal less produced. It may be replaced by hydrogen I suppose, as with the Olympic flame.  Secondly, electricity seems to be going up and up in price, so I think we will have to put solar panels in and generate our own, combined with batteries for storage. We may even look at putting in electric brooding as I have seen in the Netherlands. It would be great if our government would give grants for farmers to try new ideas linked with a university to evaluate the system as they do in Netherlands. That is one reason why so many new ideas come from that country.

We also had some good news. As you know, we have been down the RSPCA Assured route twice before both, times going back to Standard due to consumer unwillingness to pay the premium. Well, M&S have at last confirmed their commitment to JA87 production and they are going to advertise on TV!

This brings me on to another subject. A few years ago I went to the BFREPA conference and Tom Heap said we needed to be more aggressive with letting everyone know what we do. Well, I thought maybe we could as an industry have a website where we farmers could post short videos of what we do to show opening of windows or placing enrichment bales, etc. On YouTube apparently there is a dairy farmer doing this and they have over 365,000 followers. I believe doing this would go some way to counteract the films put out by the animal welfare lobby. 

This month I attended my first Nfsco face-to-face board meeting which, apart from the 410 mile drive in a car whose aircon had died with outside temperatures of 30 degrees plus, showed just how much I have missed the chit chat that goes with meetings. This was also the case on an NFU farm walk where we discussed ELMS and the lump sum payment for farmers to leave farming, which sounds good but does not apply to poultry producers as we do not get a payment now. It also is frustrating that they have not announced the young entrants scheme at the same time, as you would think they would run hand in hand.

Although some meetings are back face to face, I did attend a Zoom on antibiotic use in animals, which highlighted the fantastic work we have all done on reducing antibiotics use in poultry, reducing it from 82 tonnes in 2012 down to 19.7 tonnes in 2019 which is 9.33% of all antibiotics used in all animals. Again, this is something we should be proud of. Animals also only account for 36% of all antibiotics used whereas humans use  64% so it doesn’t seem fair to blame use in animals for resistance.


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