Suffolk: Soaring feed prices ‘pushing free range eggs into crisis’

SOARING feed prices are sending the UK’s free range egg industry into crisis, producers have warned.

The price that farmers receive for free range eggs must rise if consumers are going to have the choice of eating high welfare British free range eggs, insists the British Free Range Egg Producers Association (BFREPA).

In common with feed for other livestock sectors, the cost of chicken feed has rocketed as drought hits wheat and soya yields - both important poultry feed ingredients.

Free range producers are already reeling from the effects of higher production costs and low egg prices.

Stephen Mann, who keeps around 16,000 laying hens at his small farm in Sweffling, near Rendham, and has been in the sector since 2003, said the price shifts were making the business less and less viable for himself and son, Andrew.

“The situation is dire and very worrying. I cannot go on with these high feed prices. We are not even breaking even at the moment and I am not sure how much longer we can go on,” he said.

“I have battened down the hatches. I have cut my costs as much as possible everywhere and it’s going to be difficult now to pay for the next flock.”

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Pullet prices had gone up by 10p each, he added.

“It’s all very worrying because I’m looking at retiring and I can’t,” he said. “You could make a living from it up until now. Now it’s terrible. What needs to be done is a few heads need to be banged together like in the dairy industry and an agreement needs to be reached with processors and packers.

“We won’t have any free range in this country if we don’t do something about it.”

Eastern region MEP Stuart Agnew, who farms free-range eggs in Norfolk, said action was needed if the supply of free range eggs was to be protected.

“The volatility in feed prices is unsustainable for farmers of free range eggs. Something needs to be done or free range eggs will not be available on supermarket shelves in the future,” he said.

Producers complain that the cost they receive for their eggs is not keeping pace with the higher feed costs. They warn it could mean the British free range hen could become a much rarer sight in 2013. They say although other egg and meat sectors are also affected by price rises, the free-range egg sector has been badly hit as free range hens eat about 10% more feed per day than a hen in an indoor system.