NFU24: Poultry – setting the strategy that is fit for the future

21 February 2024

An image of James Mottershead and Prof Louise Manning speaking at NFU Conference 2024.

Chief Poultry Adviser Aimee Mahony chaired a breakout session looking into the challenges faced and a vision for a profitable and sustainable future for poultry.

The egg and broiler sectors have gone through a tumultuous couple of years, with many producers questioning whether they can continue in the same way.

A pivotal moment

NFU Poultry Board Chair James Mottershead told the audience: “The poultry sector is at a pivotal moment. In the past two years we have all had to contend with huge increases in cost of production none of us thought imaginable, shortages of eggs on the supermarket shelves and a lack of producer confidence to invest and in some cases growers coming out of production altogether.

“A supply chain in jeopardy in both the egg sector and the broiler sector with the retailers and government not realising the true extent of challenges presently been felt by us all on farm.

“We have seen interest rates go up to levels that many of us have never had to run a business through.

“And, we have had two years of the worst outbreaks of avian influenza. Resulting in challenges both on farm and further afield with trade barriers, restrictions on the movement of birds in to and out of disease control zones and, a system overwhelmed.

“As well as all this we’ve had the individual people and businesses that have been caught up by this horrific disease.

“In the egg sector we have seen empty shelves and eggs being rationed as the egg shortage continued to play out as a direct result of mounting losses leading egg producers to cancel pullet orders and leave their sheds empty – something that we all warned would happen as it so epically did towards the end of 2022.”

Making supply chains fit for the future

“But no-one would be a farmer if they did not have a risk appetite, but sometimes I challenge farmers as to whether their risk appetite is a little too much and they might want to rein it back,"

Professor Louise Manning, University of Lincoln

Supply chain expert and Herefordshire broiler producer, Professor Louise Manning, of the University of Lincoln, provided a personal perspective of the opportunities the poultry sector has to strengthen supply chains ensuring that they are fit for the future.

Prof Manning told delegates that the government should have an appropriate food risk rather than a food security strategy.

She said that ‘green finance’ was coming farmers’ way from the banking industry, while at the same time they are coming under pressure to keep food prices low.

“I would argue that the stability we have had for the past 20 years is the aberration. If you look at any of the metrics, low interest rates constantly for a period of time is not what usually happens. So we are in a highly unpredictable world and it will continue.

“But no-one would be a farmer if they did not have a risk appetite, but sometimes I challenge farmers as to whether their risk appetite is a little too much and they might want to rein it back,” she added.

She said the industry had spent years becoming leaner, taking costs and people out of the system, but this approach did not work when there are shocks and squeezes to your supply chain and farmers need to be agile.

She defined resilience as ‘bouncing without breaking’ as a coping strategy, but farmers need to ‘bounce forward’ to succeed.

Meet the speakers from this session

Aimee Mahony

Chief adviser (poultry), National Farmers' Union

Aimee joined the NFU as poultry adviser in 2016 following four years working in the egg sector for Noble Foods.

In 2019 Aimee was named the EPIC Young Poultry Person of the Year and eight months later was appointed NFU chief poultry adviser.

Aimee leads the NFU poultry team on a number of policy issues covering both the poultry meat and egg sectors and manages the national poultry board.

James Mottershead

NFU Poultry Board chair (West Midlands member)

James is a broiler producer from Shropshire and produces his own feed rations through on farm home mixing, feeding his birds a mash-based diet.

Aside from poultry, the family business farms 1000 acres of arable, has a 1MW biomass boiler system, a 1MW biomass CHP system, 500KW solar PV arrays and a 500KW wind turbine.

James is the current chair of the NFU Poultry Industry Programme and was previously co-opted to the board as a PIP representative which ensures the voice of younger members is well represented. He is keen for the board to address issues surrounding labour shortages and rising costs of production and believes these are some of the industries main priorities.

Louise Manning

Professor of Sustainable Agri Food Systems, Lincoln Institute for Agri-food Technology, University of Lincoln

Undertaking consultancy and research for over 35 years, Louise informs policy, business productivity and efficiency and personal development in the agri-food sector. 

Her research and consultancy expertise focusses on food security, sustainability, resilience, and food integrity. Louise is also involved in broiler production on her family farm in Herefordshire.

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