By Charles Bourns, broiler grower, Gloucestershire
I had an experience this week that I have not had before. We are now growing the Oakham Gold for Marks & Spencer and they put the farm and farmer’s name on the product. Lo and behold, our name went on and it gave me a strange feeling of ownership I had not had before. So I went to the M&S at Cribbs Causeway and bought three of my chickens and a packet of breast fillets. I gave two of the chickens away just to see what friends thought of the new product, and not surprisingly both came back and said how much they enjoyed them. One did point out that as they cost more the challenge we have is getting someone to buy for the first time, but at least I know it can be a winner, which gives us confidence for the future that we are producing the right product.
This week I visited Dyson Farming’s enterprise in the south west, where they farm 4,000 of their total 35,000 acres. It was very interesting – they do beef with a breed called the Stabiliser and Aberfield sheep – with the meat sold locally to pubs restaurants to maximise the return – plus arable. I learnt several things, one of which is how passionate they are about producing British produce to replace imports, hence the strawberries being grown using heat from Dyson’s AD plants. Secondly, we were told that it costs them twice as much as any grant monies to do these diversification schemes that some believe are the future of farm incomes. When asked how they will replace their payment in the future, they replied by converting properties and renting them out, whether it be as an office, conference centre or holiday lets. The last lesson I learnt was that for all their wealth, no project is undertaken unless it shows a good return on cash invested.
The other night the NFU Gloucestershire committee met with the vice president of the NFU, and I soon realised that every sector of agriculture, while different, has common problems that are being exaggerated by the rampant inflation we are all experiencing. That’s especially the case if you are producing a premium product like milling wheat, which costs £40-50 per tonne more to produce due to the fertiliser price. Somehow we need to get these messages over and I know the NFU are doing it as best they can.
The war in Ukraine carries on in the east of the country, but it is becoming more apparent that exports from Ukraine into Europe are increasing again, especially from MHP, which is the largest chicken company in Ukraine and pre-war accounted for 70% of the country’s exports. The EU is letting the product in tariff free, which is beginning to annoy countries such as Poland. Copa Cogeca are raising their concerns with the Commission, and I know we are now outside the EU but if their prices are depressed it will eventually affect us too.
One question I will end on is why are we being left behind when it comes to insect proteins? We are all told that soya is our Achilles heel when it comes to our carbon footprint – the Europeans realise this and so they see insect protein as part of the solution, alongside meal worms in human food.
Lastly it was great to catch up with so many at the awards ceremony, and may I be the last to congratulate Aled Griffiths OBE on being awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award. His contribution to the egg industry has been enormous, and without his drive and foresight, the Lion scheme would not be where it is today.