Investing in innovation and catering to consumer demand has helped the poultry industry become successful, but challenges including a lack of certainty surrounding Brexit and issues sourcing labour could undermine the industry’s progress.
Preparing for the future was the key theme at the Egg and Poultry Industry Conference this week in Newport, South Wales.
And farmers were ‘petrified’ by the idea of a trade deal with the US which let in chlorinated chicken, according to NFU poultry board chairman Thomas Wornham.
He criticised politicians who thought it was acceptable to ship chicken in from across the world when climate change was hitting the headlines just to cut a few pence off the already low price.
NFU chief poultry adviser Gary Ford said there would be a knock-on effect of allowing in chicken produced to lower standards, even if retailers maintained their support.
Mr Ford said: “That could be 12p/kg. Ask can you remain profitable and the answer is no.”
Farming Minister George Eustice had moved to reassure them, saying some countries would be pushing for them to allow cheap, lower standard products into the UK but the Government ‘does not intend to give way’.
A lack of certainty was also hitting investment.
Mr Wornham added the industry was ready to invest but he would not be doing so until he knew the supply chain had the labour to run it.
“I want the Government to be more supportive in the Agriculture Bill, to say that we are an essential sector and we will be looked after,” he said.
“Once I get some certainty from Government that they take agriculture seriously, I will take it seriously.”
He said Mr Eustice had taken a ‘bullish’ approach that everything should be market-led, but he did not think the market wanted to support them.
Mr Eustice also emphasised the poultry sector was unsubsidised and ready for change, and Mr Ford said this was where agricultural sectors could learn from each other.
He added: “Be close to the consumer, be efficient, look at the cost of production and look at managing those costs, whether that is improving feed conversion or reducing mortality."