TURKEY farmers are leading calls to improve compensation for stock lost to avian influenza, warning that the current offer makes restocking birds an unviable prospect.

For farms hit by avian influenza, compensation is paid for birds which are healthy 48 hours after the order to cull a flock has been signed.

See also: England-only poultry housing order announced from 7 November

But for turkey farms in particular, by the 48 hour-point, most or all birds will have often died and are therefore ineligible for any compensation under current rules.

That is an improvement on the previous rule, in which compensation was paid based on healthy birds at the point APHA officials were able to get on farm, but industry leaders are warning it does not go far enough.

Farmers are also unable to insure against avian influenza at present, prompting warnings that many will wait to restock with poultry until prospects improve.

‘Simply not adequate’

Tom Bradshaw, the NFU’s deputy president, described the current compensation framework as “simply not adequate” at the Egg and Poultry Industry Conference (EPIC) earlier this week.

“From an NFU perspective, we’re exploring all avenues as to how we can challenge those decisions and ensure farmers receive fair compensation.”

He said that vaccination could prove a “holy grail”, but it was unlikely that a product would become available for at least 18 months and called for sector support in the interim.

The union’s poultry board chair, James Mottershead, said the NFU was calling for compensation to be paid at the point of disease confirmation.

“In circumstances where AI is confirmed on farm, the point at which the number of healthy and suspected birds is calculated for compensation purposes should be at the point of disease confirmation,” he explained.

Full compensation

“If the calculation does not take place at this point, there is a risk that previously healthy birds will become infected before government culling begins, particularly where there is a delay to culling. As a result, producers may not be fully compensated for losses of those birds.”

The turkey sector has been particularly hard hit by AI this autumn, with about 750,000 birds either killed or culled because of the virus, according to farmer Paul Kelly.

With around four million birds consumed at Christmas, he estimated that 20% of the free-range supply had been hit and 5% of standard.

Defra figures already indicated lower seasonal placings of turkeys this year as inflation, and the threat of AI, hit the sector’s confidence.

He echoed calls that without changes to compensation producers would not risk restocking birds for the seasonal market next year.

Mr Kelly added his firm had already began killing birds and freezing them as a result of changes to marketing rules approved last week but warned smaller producers would be unlikely to have that option this year.