John Bowler believes that UK producers should go continental with their stocking densities on the range, if the home market is not to be flooded with imports.
The founder of the free-range egg production franchise which bears his name told the January meeting of the East Midlands poultry discussion group that stocking on the range should comply with the EU maximum of 2500 birds/ha (1010/acre). This is more than double the RSPCA Freedom Food figure of 1000/ha (404/acre).
“We need the greater density if we are to meet the rapidly growing demand for home produced free-range eggs and prevent imports being sucked in to fill the gap in the market. We must be allowed to compete on a level playing field.”
The thriving UK free-range sector which was, without doubt the largest and best run in Europe, was flying at the moment and nothing should be allowed to curb its progress. Producers need to lobby their MPs and the government on the issue to make sure that nothing did.
It was this dynamism and potential that had first attracted him over 30 years ago when free range was first becoming established.
Bird numbers under the John Bowler franchise currently stands at 1.75m including several thousand on a number of company farms. “We now have 130 producers, a business that is turning over £50m a year and employing 70 people. But it’s been hard work, requiring a high level of investment with £7m spent on land alone in recent years.”
On consumer buying trends, Mr Bowler believes the high level of disposable income about and consumer’s confidence in the quality of a British Lion egg meant that price was immaterial.
“Many housewives don’t even look at the prices. I’ve watched them. They pick packs off the supermarket shelf without even checking to see how much it costs because they are too busy looking to see what’s happening further up the aisle and planning their next purchase.
He dismissed as irrelevant the “nowhere egg” also known as the barn egg. “No one talks about barn. They are nowhere in the marketplace.”
But deepest scorn was reserved for the multi-tier systems that he said were being installed in some free-range units.
The layout of two and three levels high either side of a passage area were too reminiscent of cage units and worked against the spirit of free range production and were bad environmental news for the farm and local residents. Droppings, instead of being absorbed in the litter, had to be cleared every few days with the inevitable increase in smells.
“I simply cannot understand anyone buying a multi-tier unit, risking theirs and the industry’s future.”
His dedication to his franchise production operation still burns bright and his recurring daydream is to export it to Europe and, best of all, to the USA.