Strong demand, competitive pricing and the wide-ranging implications of Brexit are likely to be common themes at this year’s British Pig & Poultry Fair. We profile some of the Forum speakers to identify key trends. All forums are free to attend and take place in the main forum theatre adjacent to hall 3.

Egg outlook – helping you plan ahead

10 am Tuesday and Wednesday

Get the low down from industry experts on their predictions for the challenges and opportunities ahead for eggs. With Mark Williams, BEIC, and Richard Pearson, Chippindale Foods. Chaired by Duncan Priestner, NFU Poultry Board.

According to Defra statistics, consumption of eggs increased by 2% in the year to August 2017, to 12.8bn eggs. And Richard Pearson, head of agriculture at Chippindale Foods, expects that trend to continue. “Consumption is going up and as a nation we’re behind the rest of Europe,” he says. “There’s a very rosy future.”

However, retailer price pressure is a concern, with producers being challenged to increase production – and welfare standards – without receiving any price incentive to do so. So how can producers improve productivity without damaging profitability? “There is a big drive to keeping hens in lay for longer, and keeping the shell quality up in later lay,” explains Mr Pearson.

From 2025, retailers want to only source eggs from cage free hens; so where does that leave farmers who aren’t sure where to invest? “Barn egg sales are very small in the UK so I think it’s likely to be more of a free range push,” says Mark Williams, chief executive of the British Egg Industry Council.

However, obtaining planning permission is an ongoing problem, and changes to Environment Agency permit costs are also very unpopular. “This will always be a challenge on a small island, especially as we look to increase self-sufficiency. But at the end of the day people have to eat.”

With Brexit around the corner, the egg industry is well placed due to its robust Lion farm assurance scheme, adds Mr Pearson. “However, there are 5-6m hens’ worth of eggs used for processing in the UK each year and, following recent food scare issues like Fipronil last year, I would like to think conscientious food manufacturing companies will look to source more of their eggs from Lion approved units to safeguard the quality.”

Poultry meat outlook – predictions for the year ahead

12 pm Tuesday and Wednesday

What should you be planning for? Two industry experts share their outlooks for poultry meat for the year ahead. With John Kirkpatrick, Tesco, and Patrick Hook, PD Hook Hatcheries. Chaired by Gary Ford, NFU Poultry Adviser.

UK poultry meat slaugtherings increased by 4.63% between 2015 and 2016, to 1.08bn head, and Patrick Hook, director at PD Hook, expects demand to remain strong. However, retailer price pressure is unlikely to go away. “As producers, we therefore need to major on getting the best performance possible, looking at everything we do on a day-to-day basis.”

There is a big push from EU NGOs for more chickens to be slow grown, which could reduce staffing costs, as could new technology and automation.

Of course, the Brexit backdrop provides a lot of uncertainty, mainly around access to a skilled, permanent and seasonal workforce, as well as potential trade barriers, he adds. “Imported US chicken is a credible threat – not to the fresh chicken sector but in the frozen and processed categories. We need to protect our supply base and sell the benefits of eating Red Tractor chicken.”

John Kirkpatrick, agricultural manager for poultry and eggs at Tesco, reckons the coming year is likely to see continued improvements in welfare standards, with increased use of data to measure the outcome. “We continue to challenge ourselves to improve welfare standards, looking at the latest science to give our customers confidence,” he explains. “We want to challenge our suppliers to push the boundaries for innovative projects that deliver.”

Using these outcome measures is likely to work well across the board, from welfare improvements to antibiotic reduction, and from data capture to boosting technical efficiencies, adds Mr Kirkpatrick. “We want to adopt sustainable practices that are really delivering positive outcomes. This is achieved through supply chains that are based on long-term partnerships with farm production aligned to Tesco and our customers.”

Having done such a good job of reducing antibiotic use in recent years, Mr Hook envisages further gradual improvement in the years ahead. “We need to emphasise the message of responsible use – I don’t think antibiotic free production is responsible from an animal welfare perspective.”

Measuring your poultry business to improve performance

1pm Tuesday and Wednesday

In this forum, we will talk about how to collect data that is most valuable to you and use it to your advantage. With John McCurdy, ABN, and Ian Lowery, Crowshall Veterinary Services.

Technology could provide the answer to some of producers’ challenges – whether it’s automating climate controls or packing eggs more efficiently. And pulling together data – both on-farm and throughout supply chain – can really help to drive business efficiencies, says John McCurdy, head of agri data services at ABN. “It’s about the environmental, feed and performance indicators and how they tie together.”

Although graphs can be useful, clever software helps farmers to pull out the important information at any particular moment in time, says Mr McCurdy. “And if we can bring the financial aspects together with the performance data it will drive business efficiencies.”

However, it’s not all about the clever software, he adds. “Not everyone will have the latest computerised systems in place, but it is still feasible to collect the data yourself and use technology to bring it all together.”

Many people are already recording significant data for auditing purposes – they just need to make better use of it, explains Ian Lowery, a vet at Crowshall Veterinary Services. He recommends benchmarking between historical flocks on the same farm, using the best flock as a target.

“You can plot trends in water consumption and liveweight gain, building temperature and mortality. There are practical ways in which data can be captured and used to improve key performance indicators. Analysing data shouldn’t be a scary thing that requires huge investment or computing skills – it’s about using something you’re collecting every single day to intuitively improve performance.”

 

Forums take place at the same time on both days of the Fair and are free to attend. The forum theatre is located adjacent to hall 3 and will be clearly marked on all Fair maps on the day.