For Britain’s chicken farmers, Brexit and COVID brew a perfect storm By Reuters


© Reuters. A employee processes chickens on the manufacturing line on the Soanes Poultry manufacturing facility close to Driffield, Britain, October 12, 2021. Image taken October 12, 2021. REUTERS/Phil Noble


By Kate Holton and James Davey

DRIFFIELD, England (Reuters) – When Nigel Upson checks the plucked hen carcasses dangling from a rotating line at his poultry plant in England, he sees money haemorrhaging out of his enterprise from a collision of occasions that has distressed each a part of the farm-to-fork provide chain.

Like meals producers throughout Britain, Upson was hit this yr by an exodus of jap European employees who, deterred by Brexit paperwork, left en masse when COVID restrictions lifted, compounding his already hovering price of feed and gasoline.

Such is the dimensions of the hit, he minimize output by 10% and hiked wages by 11%, an increase that was instantly matched or bettered by neighbouring employers within the northeast of England.

Will increase in the price of meals will certainly observe.

“We’re being hit from all sides,” Upson informed Reuters in entrance of 4 huge, spotless sheds that home 33,000 chickens apiece. “It’s, to make use of the phrase, an ideal storm. One thing should give.”

The deepening issues at Upson’s Soanes Poultry plant in east Yorkshire are a microcosm of the pressures constructing on companies internationally’s fifth largest financial system as they emerge from COVID to confront the post-Brexit commerce obstacles erected with Europe.

Within the broader meals sector, operators have elevated wages by as a lot as 30% in some circumstances simply to retain employees, possible forcing an finish to an financial mannequin that led supermarkets comparable to Tesco (OTC:) to supply a number of the lowest costs in Europe.

Following the departure of European employees who typically did the roles that British employees did not need, retailers could need to import extra.

Whereas all main economies have been hit by provide chain issues and a labour scarcity after the pandemic, Britain’s powerful new immigration guidelines have made it tougher to get better, companies say.

Already a driver scarcity has led to an absence of gasoline at fuel stations and gaps on grocery store cabinets, whereas hen restaurant chain Nandos ran out of hen.

The Financial institution of England is weighing up how a lot of a current soar in inflation will show long-lasting, requiring it to push up rates of interest from their all-time low.


For the agricultural companies located close to the flat, open fields of Yorkshire, Upson says the scenario is dire.

Though he says he wants 138 employees for his plant, he not too long ago needed to function with beneath 100. Employees turnover is excessive.

Richard Griffiths, head of the British Poultry Council, says that with Europeans making up about 60% of the sector, the business has misplaced greater than 15% of its employees.

When numbers are notably tight Upson will get his gross sales, advertising and marketing and finance employees to don the lengthy white coats and hairnets which are wanted on the processing line.

“Three weeks in the past the places of work had been empty, everybody was within the manufacturing facility,” he mentioned, of a enterprise that provides high-end birds for butchers, farm outlets and eating places. For the run-up to Christmas, he could look to college students.

On tough days Soanes can solely ship absolutely the fundamentals – chickens piled into containers. They don’t have time to truss the birds for retail or put them into separate, Soanes-labelled packaging that instructions the next promoting value.

Round 3 tonnes of offal that’s usually offered every week goes within the skip because of the lack of employees to course of it.

The sudden rise in wages and the drop in output additionally come on high of spikes in the price of animal feed, power and gasoline, carbon dioxide, cardboard and plastic packaging.

“We have simply needed to say to our clients, sorry, the worth goes up,” Upson mentioned, shaking his head. “We’re dropping cash, massive model.” The poorest customers could be hardest hit, he mentioned.

Enterprise homeowners have urged the federal government to quickly ease visa guidelines whereas they do the employees coaching and automation of processes wanted to assist shut Britain’s 20-year, 20% productiveness hole with the US, Germany and France.

However removed from altering course, Prime Minister Boris Johnson says companies want to chop their dependancy to low cost international labour now, put money into know-how and supply well-paid jobs to a number of the 1.5 million unemployed individuals in Britain.

Upson says there’s a scarcity of employees in rural communities and with some 1.1 million job vacancies within the nation, individuals may be picky about which they decide. “Working in a hen manufacturing facility is not all people’s thought of a profession,” he mentioned.

Whereas 5,500 international poultry employees will likely be allowed to work in Britain earlier than Christmas, and the UK will supply emergency visas to 800 international butchers to keep away from a mass pig cull sparked by a scarcity in abattoirs, the business says it wants extra.

As for automation, the manufacturing of entire birds is already extremely mechanised, and whereas it could possibly be used extra for boneless meat and comfort cuts, the price is prohibitive for a small operator.

The Nationwide Farmers’ Union and different meals our bodies mentioned in a current report that components of the UK’s food and drinks provide chain had been “precariously near market failure”, limiting the power to put money into automation.

Soanes has an annual turnover of round 25 million kilos ($34 million). Within the final three years its homeowners have spent 5 million on growth. Now output should match the dimensions of the workforce.


In line with “Hen King” Ranjit Singh Boparan, founding father of the UK’s greatest producer, 2 Sisters, meals costs should now rise.

“Meals is just too low cost,” he mentioned. “In relative phrases, a hen right now is cheaper to purchase than it was 20 years in the past. How can it’s proper that an entire hen prices lower than a pint of beer?”

Upson says he can get the next value promoting bones for pet meals than he can for a leg of hen.

For main producers, the principle barrier to larger costs is usually the buying energy of the largest supermarkets, which have because the 2008 monetary crash battled to maintain costs down for key gadgets comparable to fruit, greens, bread, meat, fish and poultry.

Sentinel Administration Consultants’ CEO David Sables, who coaches suppliers on find out how to negotiate with British supermarkets, mentioned determined meals producers had already pushed by means of some value rises, and he expects one other spherical to come back in early subsequent yr.

With hen a so-called “recognized worth merchandise”, of which consumers instinctively know the price, he mentioned supermarkets would possible push the worth rises on to different items. He described the hen sector as an “absolute horror present”.

One senior govt at a significant grocery store group, who requested to not be named, mentioned retailers had been beneath strain to “maintain the road” on key costs, and that all of them watch one another.

“In the event you see one of many massive six transfer (on value), you possibly can wager your damnedest others will take about 12 hours to observe,” he mentioned.

Again in Yorkshire, Upson and others are praying they do. Whereas he acknowledges Johnson’s want to maneuver to a “high-wage, high-skills” financial system, he mentioned not all jobs match that invoice.

“What talent do you’ll want to put hen in a field?” he asks. “We are able to put wages up, however costs will go up.” He’s beginning to despair. “Usually you possibly can simply be pragmatic and say, it’ll kind itself out. However I am unsure the place this one ends.”

($1 = 0.7277 kilos)

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