PLANNING was highlighted as a major challenge to the poultry sector by producers calling on Defra farming minister Mark Spencer for change to the system at this year’s Pig & Poultry Fair. 

David Brass, CEO of The Lakes Free Range Egg Company, described planning as “the biggest single issue” in the free range laying sector. 

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“Two units passed planning in England last year. That’s an industry in decline,” he said.

There was a need to find ways of improving the planning process, but he had to acknowledge there were environmental problems with nutrient run-off. 

He wondered if the Wye Valley recovery scheme could be spread out across the rest of the UK. 

‘Part of the solution’

“There are those people out there that want to paint agriculture as the problem,” said Mr Spencer. 

“We’ve got to make sure we paint ourselves as part of the solution. The Wye Valley is going to be a really important demonstration of what we can achieve.”

He was hoping to find a way that new planning permission could continue to be given, while lowering the environmental footprint, by working together with Natural England and the Environment Agency to solve the problems.

‘Fit for service’

Gary Ford, chief executive of the British Egg Industry Council, agreed that the planning issue was critical: “We need to invest in the estate, the sheds are getting older, but we need a planning system that is fit for service.”

Mr Spencer recognised this: “It’s fundamentally unfair for the government to say you should reduce your stocking rates, and then stop you from putting up a new shed. I do get that, and we are working closely with the DLUHC (the department responsible for planning) to try and solve that challenge.”

“Part of the problem is that planning is dealt with as a local issue,” said RASE chairman Philip Gready. “Is there the expertise available locally to make decisions of that scale? I doubt it.” 

Stocking densities

In the poultry meat sector, broiler producer Will Raw was equally concerned about planning permission in the light of supermarket commitments to lower stocking densities.

He said the planned move to reduced stocking densities for broilers would improve performance and welfare, but the sector would require 20% more floor space just to stand still. 

“Is the time frame realisticdo we have time to build the shedsand will planning and environmental permitting allow these sheds? Or will we have empty shelves?”

Profitability

Another issue was profitability. In a recent NFU survey, 15% of broiler producers were unsure whether they would remain in production beyond 2025, while two-thirds had no plans to reinvest over the next two years.

“Why should an industry with such good retail sales have such low producer confidence?” asked Mr Raw.

The main reason given in the NFU survey was insufficient returns on funds, said.

“Our current industry approach, with a race to the bottom on price and a race to the top on welfare standards, is totally unsustainable.”