WHAT a difference 12 months makes. In December 2021, our egg market report suggested a disappointing Christmas marketing season.
A year later, there are severe shortages of eggs at retail and nothing on offer through wholesalers, with prices hitting record highs.
That said, passing those rising prices back to farmers has been a major bone of contention for free-range egg producers this year. But it’s not just egg producers that have had to tackle higher prices.
The world opening up post-covid set inflation on an upward trajectory before the war in Ukraine compounded it, sending the key input costs for poultry production – energy and feed – soaring.
And the other major challenge has been avian influenza, particularly this autumn, in which the UK has been the hardest-hit nation in Europe by the virus.
Here we collate some of our coverage of the poultry sector throughout the year.
The news that a person had tested positive for avian influenza hit the national headlines. Although the infected individual reportedly lived in close quarters with the ducks he kept.
Feed prices were already up in January, with our Basic Layers’ Ration climbing to highs last seen in 2012. Our headline, “Poultry feed prices hit new highs”, was sadly repeated for much of 2022 as ration costs soared.
Peel Holroyd, a stalwart of the poultry sector, passed away in late December, and we published an edited version of his obituary in January.
At the end of January, the EU introduced new laws banning, among other things, the preventative use of antibiotics in groups of farm animals, leading the UK’s sector to defend its 74.2% reduction in the total use of antibiotics under a voluntary scheme.
Sticking with Europe, the EU started talking seriously about an avian influenza vaccine. France was leading the charge after a devastating outbreak over the winter.
Signs of the situation in which the egg market finds itself today began to emerge, with the egg market tightening significantly in February.
Readers of Poultry.Network would have learned that the number of birds in-lay looked set to fall by May to the lowest level for four years.
The British Free Range Egg Producers’ Association called for a 10p/doz increase to egg cheques.
Meanwhile, at the NFU’s conference, Defra announced it would financially support a move away from colony egg production and towards the Better Chicken Commitment. That project has perhaps not progressed as quickly as initially envisioned…
Ukrainian poultry giant MHP issued a stock market notice detailing the disruption that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was causing. The firm said it was committed to continuing production to support food security in the embattled country.
Meanwhile, Ronald Kers, 2 Sisters Food Group’s chief executive, said food inflation could peak at 10%-15% because of the crisis.
Egg producers had the headache of the end of the 16-week marketing derogation for free-range eggs from 21 March.
This year it meant mass signage in shops at point-of-sale saying the eggs were now technically from barn-kept hens.
A gripe for many would be those posters remaining in place long after the housing order had ended.
Shropshire broiler grower James Mottershead was elected as chair of the NFU poultry board for 2022-2024.
By the beginning of April, egg producers were saying inflation was putting them ‘on the brink of bankruptcy’. Bfrepa detailed how some input costs had soared – feed was up 50%, for example.
Sainsbury’s said it planned to lower broiler stocking densities to 30kg. sq m, but faced criticism for not formally signing up to the BCC and using slower-growing breeds.
And by the end of the month, Defra had announced the end date of the housing order – 2 May.
The British Pig & Poultry Fair returned for the first show after the pandemic and Poultry.Network exhibited for the first time.
We also covered forum speakers, award winners and detailed new product launches.
- Cutting stocking densities could threaten supplies of British poultry
- Leading egg packer warns of shortages if market does not improve
- How funding for poultry farmers post-Brexit might work
- Aimee Cox wins Zoetis-NFU Poultry Trainee Award
- 7 new products that were on show at the Pig and Poultry fair
Defra made a major revision to its broiler chick placing figures, suggesting the sector was reporting significant cutbacks in production in the first quarter of the year.
More business news, Kelly Turkeys held a belated 50th birthday party, and Vencomatic Group bought out its UK subsidiary, making the firm a wholly owned part of the parent company.
Aviagen’s 420 Club became the 440 Club because of higher bird performance, as reflected in improved EPEFs across the UK.
European agricultural ministers adopted the position that vaccination should become a complementary tool in the fight against avian influenza, paving the way for new drug trials.
Around the same time, reports emerged of ‘thousands’ of wild birds dying from AI around Scotland’s coast, with the disease spreading south through coastal bird colonies over the summer.
There was more pessimistic news from the UK’s fight against AI. A National Audit Office report said that Defra had allowed facilities at APHA Weybridge, the UK’s primary site for managing threats from animal diseases, to deteriorate “to a point where some facilities are not fit for purpose”.
The UK experienced a record heatwave in July, with broiler farmers struggling to keep birds cool as temperatures rocketed.
We recently published the experiences of Will Oliver, who farms birds in Lincolnshire.
We also published some detailed guides to keeping disease out of farms, including the latest from the APHA on keeping AI out of farms.
- How to make your poultry farm more resilient to avian influenza threat
- 5 lessons learned from the 2021/2022 AI outbreak
- How to take an integrated pest management approach to control rodents on poultry farms
The laying hen flock carried on dropping, as our egg market report that month revealed.
Sarah Dean was named as chairperson of Noble Foods, following the Dean family taking full ownership of the business in 2019.
Morrison’s became the first supermarket to launch an own-label carbon-neutral egg. It followed ‘net zero’ private branded products introduced from Noble Foods and Stonegate earlier in the year.
Defra lifted the Avian Influenza Prevention Zone (AIPZ) from midday on 16 August – not for long, it turned out.
CF Industries, a critical supplier of CO2 to the poultry sector, announced a shut down.
Inflation really began to bite. 2 Sisters said CO2 was costing the firm an additional million pounds a week.
We held our second Poultry.Network Live conference at Harper Adams. Here are some highlights of our coverage.
- The challenges behind reaching net zero poultry production
- Objectively evaluating bird welfare
- Think about farm efficiency in the face of higher input prices
We will be back again at Harper Adams in early September 2023 – let us know if you would like a ticket, trade stand or sponsor.
Wageningen University announced it was trialling three AI vaccines, and France and Italy launched trials as part of European efforts to get the virus under control.
In the UK, farms were hit hard by AI – in particular in poultry-dense East Anglia. Birds in that region were housed on 12 October following cases in 16 commercial premises since the beginning of September.
An Avian Influenza Prevention Zone was announced and introduced on 17 October.
August and September saw a substantial rise in broiler chick placings.
And at the end of the month, we published new data from Bfrepa that revealed the extent to which inflation was eroding profits for free-range egg producers.
The laying hen flock – which had been shrinking for most of this year – finally led to shortages of eggs on supermarket shelves.
Defra improved its compensation offer for farmers hit by AI, but the turkey sector argued that the changes did not go far enough. Trading standards also relaxed rules surrounding the freezing and thawing of seasonal poultry for sale as fresh.
The UK’s broiler sector cut antibiotic use in 2021 compared with a year earlier despite facing significant labour and disease outbreak challenges.
In the second half of the month, retailers and packers began to announce price rises for egg farmers amid shortages on supermarket shelves.
Paul Kelly, of Kelly Turkeys and Richard Griffiths, of the British Poultry Council (BPC), gave evidence to the Efra select committee on AI.
The poultry sector was back in the House of Commons shortly after, with its first BPC award ceremony for four years.
The NFU said it would support legal action challenging the fairness of APHA’s AI compensation scheme.
According to an analysis by Europe’s food safety authority, the UK was the country hit hardest in Europe by AI this autumn.
But to end on a positive note, feed prices showed signs they may be falling slightly right at the end of the year.
Poultry farmers have contended with a considerable amount this year.
They would be forgiven for asking Santa for some stability after years of dealing with Brexit red tape, Covid headaches and input prices that inflate. Here’s hoping for better margins and less madness in 2023.