James Mottershead and his family have been raising chickens for 20 years, but the current situation is nothing compared to it. His summary is “absolutely dire”.
The business, based in Shropshire, operates six huge sheds and produces 1.3m birds a year. It has faced a number of challenges.
The rising costs of feeds, energy and packaging are higher than the prices paid to many farmers for their poultry. The threat of bird flu never goes away. The rise of meatless alternatives and cheaper imports have created a new wave of pressure.Versatile and relatively affordable, Chicken is the most popular meat in the UK The level of consumption is far greater than that of beef, lamb, or pork.
Many domestic producers are reducing the size of their flocks while others consider whether they should continue.
Since 2001, the Mottershead family has produced broiler birds – young chickens grown for meat.
In just over a fortnight, the latest batch of chickens, 205,000 in total, will be ready to hit the shelves of supermarkets across the country.
Mottershead says that many poultry and chicken farmers in England and Wales are “really, truly terrible” because they are losing money on each bird. He is the chair of the National Farmers’ Union’s (NFU’s) poultry board.
He says that it’s reaching the point where producers have no choice but to close their doors and stop production of chickens, until energy prices start to drop and they are not locked into contracts with high energy rates.
Once you sign a contract, you must honor it.The price of “liveweight”, which is the weight of the bird, has increased, but the increase in energy costs are not taken into consideration.
The price of feed has increased by between 20% and 30% in the past two years, while energy costs per kilowatt have increased five-fold. The price of feed, which makes up almost three quarters of the cost of poultry production, has increased by 20% to 30% in the last two years. Energy costs per kilowatt are also five times higher.
While the government has recently lifted some restrictions on bird flu, allowing birds and poultry to roam free, other pressures remain.
After the Russian invasion, animal feed prices and energy bills went up . There is no sign that these costs will come down.
To reduce energy costs, chicken producers are limited in their options. They must heat and light the sheds, as well as ventilate them with large fans to ensure that they remain cool and get enough oxygen.Farmers are feeling forgotten by the government Government’s Energy-Intensive Industries Exemption Scheme Subsidizes bills for eligible manufacturers.
Mottershead says, “Poultry has to stand on its own.” A processing factory may be eligible for a reduction in its electric bill because of the high energy consumption, but a chicken farm also uses high amounts of energy. Remember that these farms have all been fitted with modern, low energy equipment.”
In addition to the eye-watering costs, rising interest rates are putting further pressure on those producers who have mortgages and/or borrowed money for equipment or facilities.
The British Poultry Council warns that “British chicken is at breaking point”.
Richard Griffiths, chief executive of the industry group, says that the need to make food affordable in a market where costs are not being recouped by the consumer is making poultry meat businesses unviable.
According to the NFU, the UK is about two thirds self-sufficient when it comes to poultry. The UK is a net exporter of white meat from poultry, mainly breast fillets. It has also been searching for markets overseas to sell dark meat such as thighs, drumsticks and offal.
The industry is concerned that cheaper imports may fill in the gap on the supermarket shelves.
The figures show that the volume of European poultry imported into Britain increased last year, albeit in a modest but notable way.According to figures from the European Commission, the EU exported 742,000 tons of poultry meat to Britain in 2022. This represents a 2.3% increase on the year before, making Britain its top export destination. In the meantime, UK poultry exports to the EU fell by nearly 25% in the last year. They dropped to just under 208,000 tonnes from almost 275,000 tonnes a year earlier.
The NFU has warned against relying too heavily on imports. It blames the recent shortage of salad to the UK’s reliance on imported fruits and vegetables during winter, leaving it especially vulnerable to “shock” weather event.
Mottershead calls on the government and the poultry supply chain in order to discuss the burdens placed on farmers.
He says, “We don’t set the market; we just take prices.” “The consumer pays the price set by the market.”
Mottershead says: “Ministers must act, bringing processors and retails into the same room to find out what happened in broiler, if any money was passed on, or if it had been held back.
We need to see retailers start to show that they value British poultry and are willing to pay a fair price for these birds.
The consumer would be forced to pay more for their food. This is a tough ask in a time of cost-of-living crisis, and food inflation that runs at nearly 20% per year.There may be another problem for poultry producers, beyond all of these: meat-free products that are trying to take chicken’s place as the nation’s favorite protein.
After a successful veganuary test, Tindle has launched their breaded meat alternatives in 350 Morrisons shops.
According to Next Gen Foods, a Singapore-based food technology company, this product is made from wheat, soy, and coconut oil. It also contains sunflower oil, natural flavours, and does not contain genetically modified organisms.
Timo Recker, Andre Menezes and their co-founders will offer Tindle Products – such as wings, nuggets and chicken popcorn – for one year in hospitality venues. After that, they will look to reach a larger UK audience.
Recker says that Tindle should be available wherever chicken is. Waiters were passing around trays with wraps, burgers, and katsu curries.
The 37-year old entrepreneur says, “We must disrupt the chicken industry.” He adds that it’s the largest meat category and the fastest-growing, plus people of all religions are able to eat it.
Recker was expecting to inherit his family’s German food processing business that specializes in foods like schnitzel. Instead, he has pursued a successful career in the development of meat substitutes.Tindle believes that such alternatives are an environmentally-friendly alternative and is aiming at meat eaters who are open to new experiences.
It claims that its products have similar levels of protein to chicken. However, the cost is between PS3 and PS4 per packet with two servings. The company promises a price reduction over time.
Chris Sheen, 33 tries a plate full of nuggets at the launch. “It is actually quite good and has that meaty texture,” he says. “I can picture myself eating this in Soho, at 3am.
Cui Huang (27), who eats meat, says, “I could have been fooled by this.” The texture is correct and it doesn’t feel weird like other fake chicken brands.