Colchester sale: Turkey prices slump hits producers

A SLUMP in turkey prices in the run-up to Christmas has knocked the stuffing out of producers.

There was little festive cheer at the last in a series of poultry auctions in Colchester on December 22, as farmers trying to sell their birds were left out of pocket.

Colchester auctioneers Stanfords held three poultry sales in its traditional lead-in to the yuletide feast, but an over-supply of birds hit prices.

It left some producers with substantial losses, particularly those trying to sell smaller birds. It follows a difficult year for the sector, with rocketing feed prices taking their toll on farmers’ returns.

Auctioneer Graham Ellis said a 20% increase in turkey numbers had resulted in an over-supply and prices had plummeted. A growing number of buyers were now seeking crowns rather than whole birds, he added.

“The quality of turkeys was as good as we have seen it,” he said.

“A month ago we thought the numbers would be very short but as the sale time approached it was clear that there was an abundance of turkeys available and numbers increased each day. We finally sold some 3,279 poultry over the three sales, an increase of over 500 head on the year.”

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“This caused a difficult trading season and the last sale was exceptionally difficult for lightweight birds of under 18 pounds. A total disaster for producers and it is difficult to summarise exactly what went wrong. Obviously having an increase of some 20% on the year didn’t help.”

There were similar stories at other traditional auction sales around the country, he said.

“Several auctions are reporting the same,” he said.

The sales got off to a reasonable start on December 18, with heavy birds selling for up to �50 a head, and an “excellent” trade in chickens and “good” geese sales, he said.

But lighter 22 to 24 pound turkeys proved more difficult to shift, and farmers need to make a minimum of around �20 a bird to break even, he said.

Turkey farmers with contracts were OK, he said, but those trying to sell surplus birds were hit.

At the December 20 sale, trade became more difficult with turkeys starting at around a pound per pound, but falling to around 80p a pound. Chickens, however, continued to buck the trend with an “excellent” trade for the best birds.

December 22 was “a very difficult trading day”, and an “absolute disaster” for some turkey producers, said Mr Ellis.

“The biggest disappointment was the birds between 12 and 15 pounds which were almost impossible to clear above 50p per pound by the end of the day.” he said.

“At least we were able to sell them even at a substantial loss to the producers. Not a pleasant scenario, but it is difficult to know what to do when supply exceeds demand.”

“Next year let’s hope realism returns to the poultry market.”

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