Are We Stuffed?
Turkey farmers have faced a challenging number of years:
- First, being severely affected by the loss of European seasonal workers for plucking and processing following Brexit,
- Followed by Christmas lockdown due to COVID,
- and losses of entire flocks through Avian Influenza.
Now this year’s crisis for turkey producers is the rise in the cost of production combined with the cost-of-living crisis, while also trying to enhance biosecurity to prevent Avian Influenza and finding seasonal labour.
Cost of Production
The cost of production for most turkey farmers has increased by 20%. Turkey chicks typically arrive on farms at 1 day old in the summer. At this point they require a constant source of heat at 34-34.5oC, this heat is reduced down every week and by week 5, the temperature should be 23oC.
The cost of providing this heating energy, combined with the cost of feed and packaging for the oven ready birds has soured since the Russian invasion of the Ukraine, with the cumulative 20% increase in the cost of production, translating into an increase of ~£16 per bird sold retail.
While this sounds like a vast increase, let’s compare it to everyday items like vegetable oil, pasta, and tea, which have increased by 65%, 60% and 46% respectively on the year (data from office of national statistics). Comparing to other meat proteins such as beef, lamb, and chicken, a 20% rise is not too dissimilar.
Avian Influenza (Bird Flu)
This is a serious notifiable disease of poultry. It is a growing problem with currently several cases being reported a day across the UK. There are currently (26/10/22) parts of Eastern England (Norfolk, Suffolk, and parts of Essex) under mandatory housing measures for all poultry and captive birds due to a spike of cases in this area. In addition, out with this area, if there are any birds within a protection zone declared around an infected premises, they must be housed.
The rest of the UK is currently in an Avian Influenza Protection Zone (AIPZ), meaning that all bird keepers must operate strict biosecurity measures to protect their flocks. If a turkey producer is confirmed to have Avian Influenza then the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) will take action to reduce the risk of the spread of infection by immediate movement restrictions and compulsory culling birds on site.
For notifiable diseases, when compulsory culling is required there may be compensation, this is not available for birds who have died pre diagnosis. It is important to ensure you diagnose infection as early as possible to prevent the spread, but also for financial reasons. Any spike in mortality should be investigated by your farm vet immediately.
Further guidance for Avian Influenza can be found at Avian influenza (bird flu)-(www.gov.uk)
Availability of Seasonal Labour
The government has issued 2,000 visas through their seasonal worker visa route for temporary migrants to work in the UK poultry sector in 2022 (plus 38,000 temporary migrants to work in the horticultural sector). This visa route remain until 2024, but the quota can change each year.
Further guidance on seasonal poultry workers can be found at Seasonal worker visa route RFI notice – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)
Always the Optimist
On the positive side, in the UK we love Christmas, food and tradition, all three of these involve the turkey. Consumers treat Christmas as a day of luxury; food and the table centrepiece is a large part of this.
Post covid restrictions, consumer habits will be interesting to follow this year but as eating at home is cheaper than eating out, we may see more people choosing to host large family feasts rather than treating the family to Christmas dinner at a restaurant. People may also choose to stay at home in the UK for Christmas and not holiday abroad, increasing our population of traditional turkey eaters.
In the last UK recession (2009) turkey sales were reported to have increased, with the premium bronze birds seeing an increase in sales for many producers. With some good cooking skills, a turkey can provide many nutritious meals for families, by using the whole carcass and maximising the meat yield through making curries, soups, pies and many more family favourites. With less than 54 days to Christmas, make sure you have your turkey on order!
Kirsten Williams; 07798617293
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