Free-range producers must stand together

Free-range egg producers have heard they must work together, growing their organisations and collecting data, in order to have more control over the industry and to make sure that the current oversupply of free-range eggs doesn’t happen again.

Speaking to 80 producers at the joint Severn Valley Poultry Discussion Group and British Free-Range Egg Producers Association (BFREPA) meeting near Ross-On-Wye, John Restson, BFREPA chairman, said he wanted big changes within the organisation to deliver greater benefits for producers.

“The next 20 years will be nothing like as successful as the last 20 years unless we change,” he said.

“We need to grow BFREPA in strength and 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.”

“Hopefully by November we’ll be at 75% and then, when we set up the databank (run by BFREPA), we will be able to know exactly what’s out there – pullets, birds being reared, birds in lay and eggs available in certain regions.”

The proposed databank would see farmers voluntarily send in figures to a central database, which producers would access with the aim of preventing another oversupplied market through unregulated expansion.

“I’m not standing out here saying we’re going to fix the marketing issues with eggs, but what I am saying is we don’t want the oversupply situation to happen again in my lifetime,” said Mr Retson.

To achieve their expansion plans, BFREPA will offer increased value through the databank and by appointing a policy directory who will meet with packers and politicians and organise local meetings for producers across the UK and collect figures, says Mr Retson.

“We need someone with continuity and who has the respect of the industry,” he said. The position has been advertised and interviews are being conducted throughout August.

Essex free-range producer, Ian Chisholm, who has set up his own free-range egg 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. Information I’ve received by email and through phone calls shows we are going to loose 100 producers by the new year,” said Mr Chisholm.

“The way the business is structured needs to be changed. We collectively have delegated all control to the packers… we’ve let them have too much say in how the industry is run and now they have a stranglehold.”

“Mr Retson is right and we need the membership, I believe we all need to get in this together and take the muck and the bullies on. We need to be a body which re-writes the terms and conditions of how we trade. We need to be strong.”

BFREPA will continue to hold a nationwide road show of meetings for members, with their next even on 3 August in the Bridge Hotel, Wetherby, North Yorkshire, and further meetings in Scotland later in the year.

For the full report from the Severn Valley/BFREPA meeting, see the September issue of Poultry World.

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