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Poultry sector suppliers speak of pandemic challenges

“I’VE been in the industry for a few decades, and I’ve never seen anything like it.” 

This was the verdict of Chris Stanford, managing director of Arden Woodshavings, describing the effects of the pandemic and accompanying lockdowns on his business.

See also: Labour challenges force cuts in poultry production

“Everything we do at Arden has been badly affected. I don’t think we’ll see normality again until 2023 at the earliest,” he predicted.

Mr Stanford was speaking at the Poultry Network Live conference at Harper Adams, where three industry suppliers described their experiences over the last 18 months.

Mr Stanford, who said Arden is the largest supplier of wood-based poultry bedding in the UK, identified numerous impacts on his business. 

Supply dried up

Foremost was a lack of his raw material from sawmills and pallet re-life centres.

From 23rd March 2020, with the first total lockdown, supply dried up overnight. 

“Sawmills shut down almost entirely, a 90% reduction, while A-grade wood (from pallets) went down 60% as well.”

Substantial existing stocks cushioned the initial shock, and then they took quick action to source quality-controlled paper bedding, which some producers had opted to continue using to date: “Not a single farmer was let down.”

No farmer let down

The end of lockdown in June 2020 brought a new problem, when sawmills “went berserk”, with production up 40%. 

The resulting 40% rise in transport requirements, to meet their contractual obligation to keep sawmills cleared of waste, put a significant strain on the operation, plus a massive increase in costs from using correspondingly less of the cheaper pallet-derived wood, he said.

All this was compounded by “labour shortages, transport and logistical issues, equipment delays, confusion over regulations, and communication breakdowns between people working at home and in the office”.

Shut down

For flock management specialist draperGROUP, the initial impact of the pandemic was much less dramatic. 

“In 2020, we’d already secured a lot of our projects, so we were busy,” said founder Paul Draper. 

When the first lockdown struck, it shut down construction, but that only lasted two weeks. 

“Then we all thought, ‘why are we locked down?’, so thankfully projects got going again.”

What became very difficult was the face-to-face contact with customers, meaning that agreeing on future projects became a challenge.

Steel price

“So it’s kind of hitting us more now,” he said.

“The steel price has just gone ballistic,” he added, which meant the cost of projects had escalated.

One problem related to Brexit rather than Covid had been issues associated with the range of equipment imported from Europe. 

“That’s been a massive hassle for us, obviously”.

Supply chain issues

Al Sayed, founder of water treatment specialist IWS (International Water Solutions), suggested his Covid story might be a little bit different to everyone else’s.

“The supply chain issues hit us really hard. 

We had orders going out in our core business of water treatment to Turkey, Italy, Cyprus, Romania, America: it all stopped. 

“We lost all international orders — a massive hit. 

UK focus

“So we to change our mindset, and focused on the UK, to just try and keep what we have, and do the best we can.”

However, as well as being a leader in water treatment in poultry, they were involved in many other industries, he said. 

“This gave us a little bit of an advantage because we were already in disinfection, which is another word for sanitisation.”

“So it’s 2020, and it’s gone sanitiser insanity, and the shelves were clear of sanitisers.”

New brand

People were searching for sanitisers, so IWS decided to add a new arm to their business. 

They had something different, in the form of an alcohol-free sanitiser, and developed a brand overnight. 

They had also developed a fogger for use in schools, similar to that used in poultry sheds. 

“Everyone wanted to fog everything, everyone wanted to sanitise everything, and we couldn’t keep up with the demand,” said Mr Sayed.