With egg consumption rocketing, but a lack of workers in the egg sector, a collaboration is launching a course to attract new blood. Jez Fredenburgh reports.
Poached, fried, scrambled – it seems the UK’s consumers just cannot get enough of eggs.
In fact, Brits bought 6.6 billion of them last year, according to data consultancy Kantar, which was 50 per cent more than in 2008.
Millennials are driving the boom, fuelled by an appetite for healthy, protein-rich foods which are versatile and affordable.
And home-grown eggs are the favourite, with 68 per cent of consumers saying they believe British eggs are safer and higher quality than imports, according to research commissioned by Harris Interactive and The Grocer.
But despite this bright future, the egg sector is facing a deficit in young workers and, so to combat this, Morrisons’ integrated egg production and packing company, Chippindale Foods, is teaming up with Bishop Burton College to launch the first British Egg Academy.
Twenty-eight other companies and organisations (see panel) across the egglaying industry are part of the collaboration and will provide practical, on-site visits and teaching.
The course, a level 2 diploma in agriculture, will begin in January 2021, and includes visits to farms, a hatchery, feed mill, packing centre, retail and vets.
Industry organisations will teach topics such as welfare, building design, breeding, record-keeping, nutrition, policy and technology.
Students visiting the Chippindale Food site will see the whole operation from eggs arriving to grading, marketing, packing and logistics.
Richard Pearson, head of agriculture at Chippindale Foods, which works with 55 free-range farmers across northern England, grading and packing nine million eggs a week, says: “We’re growing rapidly, but there aren’t enough workers in the system.
“Young people can join an industry with huge expansion and benefit from rapid career progression and varied opportunities, as well as feeding the nation with a product that is very ‘in vogue’.
“It’s a great place to forge a career and it is a very supportive industry.” Roles in the sector are wide-ranging, from on-farm computer engineers to construction, scientists and breeders, to nutritionists, vets, marketeers and retail buyers.
Andy Black, assistant principal business development at Bishop Burton College, says: “Across agriculture there is a lack of understanding about the potential it holds and progression opportunities within it.
“By working with industry, we can show the many branches of the egg sector and give students a taste of the specialisms involved.
Hopefully it will switch a light on for some.
It’s a cracking opportunity and a unique course.” Morrisons will encourage companies to have career conversations with students and inform them of opportunities available after the course.
Deciding what to feed egg-laying hens is a complicated business, says Dr Laura Beeson, poultry nutritionist at ABN, a compound feed company supplying over 2.1 million tonnes of pig and poultry feed.
She says: “I don’t think people realise how much feed matters when it comes to hen health, happiness and performance.
I am constantly reviewing data from farmers to see if the hens are getting what they need.
We continually evaluate raw materials which become available ensuring we are always able to support our farmers with advice based on the latest research.
“Feed is very dependent on what consumers and retailers want from their eggs.
It accounts for 50 per cent of a farmer’s cost of production and can influence egg numbers, egg size, colour of shell and yolk and hen behaviour, so it is vital that our diets contain high quality ingredients.
As the sector moves away from colony eggs, free-range birds need different feed as they have different nutritional requirements and are exposed to different environmental challenges: wind, rain and naturally occurring parasites and disease.” Dr Beeson became a nutritionist after studying animal science, then completing a PhD in poultry nutrition.
She says: “If you are not from a farming background, it is difficult to know what job roles are out there.
Everyone knows what an egg is, but not many know how much is involved in producing them.” She hopes ABN’s involvement in the Egg Laying Academy will inspire a new generation to pursue a career within the sector.
“We are excited to be part of the academy, partnering with some fantastic names in the industry, to provide a comprehensive insight into the Layer industry for the next generation to gain a firm understanding of poultry nutrition and its implications.” ABN will offer students first-hand experience in feed management; understanding information on feed labels; and how a feed mill is run, while also teaching students about nutrition throughout the egg-laying cycle.
Students will get to see the industry from a different perspective and discover the vast number of career opportunities that are available.
“Being a nutritionist is incredibly rewarding as it means you can make a real difference to the quality of the birds and contribute to our high welfare standards.”
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