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Welsh Sector Leads the Way in Free-Range Eggs

by 5m Editor
12 April 2010, at 12:35pm

UK - Free-range egg production in Wales is booming at a time when the poultry sector is gearing up for the end of cage systems in 2012.

According to Daily Post.co.uk in 2006 there were just over 100 registered egg producers in Wales – now there are more than 300, housing some two million birds.

The trend has been primed by the Welsh Assembly Government (WAG) via its processing and marketing grants, which has delivered more than £1m to free-range projects in Wales.

And it’s been boosted by private sector money which has brought the total Welsh poultry investment to £7.7m in the financial year just ended .

There are now proposals for further investments totalling £4m, including £400,000 from WAG. Another 27 planning applications for free-range units are currently under consideration.

Wales now produces more free-range eggs than any other EU country.

This sense of optimism was conveyed to NFU Cymru members at the union’s poultry conference in Builth Wells.

Tony Burgess, NFU Cymru’s poultry group chairman, said: “All in all the future for eggs and white meat in Wales is looking good and assured.

“We do however need to ensure that future food labelling is clear for consumers to be able to identify home-produced food from imported.”

Mid Wales has seen the biggest increase in poultry production, with Powys accounting for 70 per cent of recent projects, from installing new egg packing equipment to building new bird units.

With new commercial free-range units averaging 12,000-16,000 birds per unit, the Welsh free-range flock is predicted to rise over the next three years by around 400,000 birds.

In the global market there is evidence that egg production is shifting to countries where costs of feed, labour and regulation are significantly lower.

The UK, with its high levels of animal health, welfare and husbandry, is bucking the trend but as Europe prepares for the cage ban in 2012, domestic producers fear cheaper eggs will flood in from countries not subject to the new curbs.

Dave Cook, poultry marketing director at Vion, told NFU Cymru’s poultry conference that, at the moment, consumer support for high welfare egg and broiler products showed no sign of abating.

Referring to the broiler sector, he said: “What is interesting is that consumer interest in animal welfare has continued to grow during the recession. Therefore there is a positive outlook for the UK – we believe demand for British chicken will remain buoyant and that welfare standards will be key in consumer choice.”

Mr Burgess said free-range egg production was a success story that bucked the trend in agriculture as a whole and boosted the Welsh rural economy.

With wife Gwen, he runs Birchgrove Eggs at Trawscoed, near Aberystwyth, and has been involved in the egg industry for more than 30 years.

Recent support from WAG had made all the difference – not only though grants but also via guidance from its egg and white meat policy officers, he said.

He said, “Many new entrants into free-range egg production are farmers diversifying, or smaller farming units unable to make limited acreage viable with other agricultural practices.

“Whatever their circumstances, free-range egg production appears to be offering many farming families in Wales the chance to remain on their farms.”