Poultry farmers in Northern Ireland fear some of them could go out of business following the closure of two Moy Park facilities in the country.
The processor, which is the largest private employer in Northern Ireland, said earlier this week it would close its Ballymena slaughterhouse and a hatchery in North Antrim because of “challenging market conditions”.
Moy Park said the closure would be temporary, with plans to recommence slaughtering at the site in January 2020, while it hoped the hatchery would reopen in November this year.
Further processing and the packing of poultrymeat will continue at Ballymena, which is one of two primary poultry facilities that Moy Park operates in Northern Ireland.
The company said it would work with farmers “to manage this temporary reduction in poultry requirement”.
Farmers who supply Moy Park in Northern Ireland mostly do so under contract, and there are concerns that liveweight prices or the number of crops required a year could be cut.
The Ulster Farmers Union (UFU) said the closure marked “yet another blow” to producers, after cuts to Renewable Heat Incentive payments were made earlier this year.
“This news is likely to mean a further income hit,” said UFU deputy president David Brown. “Moy Park is Northern Ireland’s largest employer and made profits of over £72m in 2017.
“While they have said the decision is temporary, producers are very disappointed that the company cannot stand by them during this period of weaker demand.
“In recent years, retailers have been reluctant to pass on inflationary rises and the cost of the living wage to consumers, and there is continuous pressure for the supply chain to reduce its costs.
“Yet again we have seen this squeeze come onto the primary producer and there is a very real risk that some farmers will have to close their business.”
Some 1,700 people work at the Ballymena site. Moy Park said it would do its “utmost” to minimise the effect on employees and would offer temporary transfers to other shifts and roles.
But union Unite said its members at the facility feared the closure could result in up to 400 job losses.