Coronavirus: A message from the NFU poultry board chairman

Headshot of Tom Wornham Poultry board

NFU poultry board chairman Thomas Wornham writes about how the coronavirus pandemic is impacting the poultry sector and the work of the NFU to keep supply chains moving.

Demand for poultry products has gone through the roof over the past week as supermarkets feel the force of the coronavirus restrictions, with demand for eggs in some of the supermarkets up as much as 100% and for some individual businesses supplying the retail sector increases in excess of 300%.

Demands in the poultry meat sector have also reportedly been up by nearly 75%. Increased demand, coupled with the loss of customers in the food service sector, has led to some businesses coming under increased pressure.

The NFU has been taking decisive action, leading talks with government and industry, on how we can divert supply destined for food service into retail. I’m pleased to see that surplus eggs are being reallocated into this sector and the same is happening for poultry meat too.

However, I’m acutely aware that as I write this we are in a rapidly changing situation and businesses will no doubt be facing a changing customer base; I am sure we will see the associated fallout of such in the days to come.

This inevitably has put pressure on the availability of packaging and we may start to see a limited number of egg pack sizes in order to become as efficient as possible in the manufacturing process. We’re already discussing this with retailers to plan how we can minimise disruption to supply.

I am hearing concerns out there from members and I have been gathering feedback from the industry tirelessly, alongside Gary and Aimee in the poultry team, to identify issues for our members and pinch points in the supply chain.

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By using this form, farmers and growers can provide information on any business-critical issues they have encountered, or expect to encounter, arising from the COVID-19 outbreak. The NFU will log this information and use it in an anonymised format to flag the key issues agriculture and horticulture are facing to government on a daily basis. However, no personal data will be shared with the government. The service is for all farmers and growers across the UK.

By getting on top of these now we can hopefully prevent bigger issues occurring in the mid to long term. Therefore please can I encourage you to feed in your concerns through your regional poultry lead and/or board members as this feedback is vital to help shape the work that is ongoing and being fed in to government and wider stakeholders where appropriate.

Access to labour has been a long-standing concern for our sector and it’s clear that this is not going away, rearing its head during this pandemic. If anything, our concerns for a shortage of workers is growing by the day. It’s not just concerns about availability of workers on farm but also those crucial people that work all across the supply chain including hatcheries, catchers, feed mills and those in the processing sector and packing centres.

We’re working with government to ensure there are solutions in place to ensure we have the workers needed to supply the public demand for poultry products.

These are extraordinary times and I am confident we will continue to see accelerated demand for the high-quality poultry meat and eggs that we produce for the foreseeable future. We already have a robust poultry supply chain and we are seeing the value of that now. The NFU team will be working tirelessly to ensure any disruption is kept to a minimum and that supply can keep moving to the supermarket shelves.

Thomas Wornham




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