The British Free-Range Egg Producers Association (BFREPA) is planning to set up a databank, with farmers sending in regular production figures to build up an understanding of the state of the market.

“I’m not saying we’re going to fix the marketing issues with eggs, but I don’t want the oversupply situation to happen again in my lifetime,” chairman John Retson told a joint BFREPA-Severn Valley Poultry Discussion Group meeting in Herefordshire.

“When we set up the databank, we will be able to know exactly what’s out there – pullets, birds being reared, birds in lay and eggs available in certain regions. It’s the one thing I’m going to hang my hat on, so we can show we are in control of information.”

But some producers were sceptical, saying producing an accurate databank would be unfeasible. “Every organisation in the UK, from the NFU to the BEIC, has tried to keep a databank up to date. How can you achieve this when nobody else has?” asked one producer.

Others said it would be easier for breeders to provide numbers of pullets destined for free range, while some said packers already had this information and it wouldn’t give BFREPA any advantage to duplicate it.

Mr Retson also warned the meeting that BFREPA needed to adapt. “The next 20 years will be nothing like as successful as the last 20 years unless we change,” he said. “Unless we’ve got a membership of 80% of free-range producers in the UK (currently 50%), we’ll never have the strength and the respect to take on the big boys.”

Essex free-range producer, Ian Chisholm, who has set up his own free-range lobby group, Egg Producers Together, spoke in support of Mr Retsons’ plans. “There are lots of producers who will go to the wall if things don’t change. We need to be a body which re-writes the terms and conditions of how we trade.”

But another producer wasn’t confident in the resolve of British farmers to work for better prices. “The British farmer is rubbish at sticking together. They are splintering off for 2p. It happened in the milk industry.”

PACKER VIEW

Gareth Griffiths from Oaklands Farm Eggs told the meeting producers should direct their frustration at supermarkets, not packers, citing his own treatment by Sainsbury’s, which dropped him as a supplier and left him to pay for packaging and new pallets.

“We delivered to all the depots of Sainsbury’s over Christmas, because we are a farmer-based company and we can work and deliver over Christmas, and they ditched us in January on price,” he said. “I’ve got £25,000 worth of packaging from Sainsbury’s sitting on my floor and they’ve done nothing about it for nine months.

“People accuse packers of profiteering, but nobody realises we’ve got these things to deal with.”

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