20 April 2018 | Online since 2003

1 December 2017

Chairman's Comment - December 2017


The new planning data service provided to Sustainability Sponsors highlights the rate of expansion across the British Isles, particularly Northern Ireland, as planning applications for free range egg production show no signs of abating. 
Mark Williams spoke at EPIC of a potential post 2025 shortfall of 12 million eggs. However, over the last six months three million free range layers have entered, or have been approved, in the planning process. Extrapolating that over the seven years to the 2025 deadline is a dangerous and worrying calculation. As we expand, and new producers enter the market, we must be conscious of two known unknowns - Brexit and cage-free.
Binding the market together on the back of the Fipronil crisis is the drive for UK processing egg. The free range market share is still expanding, but perhaps not at the rate of free range planning. Whilst I try to remain positive about Brexit it seems to me to hold more potential downsides than positives. One positive is Lion and the exceptional quality of UK egg production coupled with an outstanding safety record, but weigh that against a free trade agreement and the potential for a flood of cheap eggs with incomparable standards, it is hard to calculate if the arguments will balance.
Dale Burnett, CEO of Noble Foods, speaking at the BFREPA Conference spoke of one of the known unknowns -  the retailers’ indecision on a move to a cage-free future - between barn and ‘intensive free range’. I would vehemently oppose any attempts to classify eggs within production size. What we must not see is a separation in free range or allow the principles of free range to be lost in size.
Doubts about expansion are not new to free range. We have been crying wolf with regards to over expansion for the last 10 years. At points in our short twenty-five-year history over production has become reality. Producers with short memories. as well as new producers. may need reminding about early depopulation and poor returns. Fortunately, those periods were short lived and came at a time of increased feed costs and considerable hardship to some producers. We would do well to remember as a growing sector we are not immune to hard times.