free-range chickens© Tim Scrivener

A Warwickshire free-range egg and poultrymeat producer has decided to sell up after 30 years in the business, blaming the aggressive pricing of supermarkets and declining standards at farmers’ markets.

Rob Wagstaff of Offchurch Poultry near Leamington Spa said it was “with deep regret” he had taken the decision, but income had been squeezed so much in recent years it no longer stacked up.

“We worked incredibly hard to bring a quality free-range product to the market, but have been constantly undercut by a mass produced product, cleverly marketed and sold by the supermarkets,” he told Poultry World.

See also: Supermarket price war ‘putting agri-food firms out of business’

“For the last 13 years, farmers’ markets have been a lifeline to genuine small producers. But in recent times this has diminished as many traders, not producers, have been allowed to sell non-farming products.

“Shoppers only have so much money in their pockets and by the time they have spent it on cupcakes, doggy treats and olives, there is nothing left for real farmers.”

At its peak, Offchurch Farm was running about 6,000 free-range layers and 1,000 free-range broilers, in two batches of 500. The farm had its own meat processing unit and, more recently, a farm shop.

“The birds were killed at between 10 and 14 weeks, and we were selling around 100 a week at farmers’ markets,” said Mr Wagstaff, who killed his last batch of birds on Thursday (14 May). “But as the prices in the supermarkets fell, with whole chicken sold at £3.50 each in Aldi and Lidl, our prices looked too high for most people and we ended up doing just 15-20 a week.

“The top and the bottom of it is that the supermarkets have killed it for us, and farmers’ markets no longer provide the support they once did.”

Mr Wagstaff, who is selling his holding and plans to move to France, insists he is not bitter about what has happened. “But I do worry for the future of our industry when small operators like us are forced out of business.”