As the pig crisis is ignored, the poultry crisis deepens and the supermarkets refuse to budge – Andrew Livingston fears a difficult future for farming
You don’t have to be a fortune teller, clairvoyant or medium to know that things aren’t looking good for the future of farmers. The signs have been pretty obvious over the last year that certain sectors in agriculture are on a downward spiral.
Late last year (BV, Nov 21) I wrote of the serious issues in the pig industry that had led to farmers protesting about the lack of action from the government. Farms went out of business. It was a dire situation. Yet to this day, pigs are still sitting on farms waiting to be killed and butchered – the NFU stated in March that 40,000 pigs had to be culled and ‘thrown away’ because of a lack of butchers to process them. The additional seasonal workers sent over did little to save the situation. The meat processing industry says there is a shortage of about 10,000 butchers.
The diverse nature of farming means that agricultural managers and farmers in other sectors can sit back and say, “Not my problem.” But it’s the wrong attitude. Sticking your head in the expensive grain isn’t helping.
A lesson in history
Farmers can look to history for guidance – and surprisingly to Nazi Germany (stay with me on this). A famous poem from German Pastor Martin Niemöller explains why silence is as bad as being complicit:
“First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out – because I was not a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out – because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out – because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”
40p a dozen
As with the socialists, the crisis in the pig industry continues (without headlines), but it is the egg industry’s head that currently rests on the chopping block. Supermarkets are adamant that they will not pay more for the eggs on the shelves as they believe their consumers won’t either.
The industry met at the annual Pig & Poultry Fair in Stoneleigh last month and the British Free Range Egg Producers Association invited representatives from eight of the major retailers for a crisis summit.
Not only did none of the retailers attend, only Tescos and Morrisons even bothered to reply and engage in conversation. Free range farmers are asking for 40 pence a dozen extra – just to be able to survive. Supermarkets argue that shoppers won’t want to pay 40p extra for their eggs, while market research from the egg industry disputes this.
But retailers will soon have to pay more than 40 pence extra. Farms ordering new pullets since the war in Ukraine are already downscaling, and some are simply not bothering to place birds at all due to the costs.
The shopper will pay
As fewer birds are placed now, fewer eggs will be in the market in the future. Bird flu last winter wiped out hundreds of thousands of hens in the UK, meaning that egg numbers are already low.
Eventually, the number of eggs in production will be so low that supermarkets could be embroiled in bidding wars for anything to sell on their shelves – and will naturally pass the additional cost to the consumers.
I can’t see the future, but as an employee in poultry, I can see the worrying signs of what’s to come for the egg industry. Once we have all packed it in … you have to ask yourself who is next?
by Andrew Livingston
Sponsored by Trethowans. Law. As it should be