‘It’s a sad situation we’re in really, I think farmers just feel a bit devalued and deflated’
Farmers are calling for ‘transparency and fairness in the food chain’ as costs skyrocket forcing some to stop restocking hens and even cull them early to prevent further losses.
While some supermarkets still have packed shelfs, others are looking increasingly bare and some of Plymouth, and the UK’s, supermarkets have recently introduced strict caps on how many eggs customers can purchase. However many farmers are still producing a consistent amount of eggs and say the problem is down to supermarkets’ own supply.
We spoke to local farmers to find out what is really going on with the supply of eggs – is there a shortage and, if so, why?
Pete Olds, farmer and partner at Cornhill Farm, Cornwall, has 14,000 free range hens. He explained they gave up their supermarket contract three years ago and now focus primarily on local sales – a decision he says has made them far happier and much more satisfied. But for commercial farmers producing for supermarkets, with the huge increase in costs this year, they are looking at an average loss of 29p per dozen eggs.
Pete, 37, said: “Farmers out there are making huge losses and supermarkets are just not passing on the inflation they’ve put on their prices in the supermarket.” He added that supermarkets have put up their prices by around 55/60p per dozen but farmers are only seeing around 18p of that.
“There’s a huge English-Channel sized gap in between what the farmer should be getting and is getting,” Pete said. “I think farmers just want a bit of transparency and fairness in the food chain”.
The journey for the eggs to reach the shops starts with the commercial egg farmer who sends eggs to a packer who will be contracted by a supermarket. The eggs will then be passed onto the supermarket who will then in turn pay the packer who then pays the farmer.
Pete said he is seeing more and more farmers make the decision not to stock hens, with those who can afford to leaving the sheds empty. He said: “Our inflation is running at about 30% at the moment whereas general inflation is about 11% so our costs are rocketing up all the time and we’re just not being paid fairly for the great British produce that we’re making.
“It’s a sad situation we’re in really, I think farmers just feel a bit devalued and deflated by it all because we’re just not being valued for the really good produce we’re making.”
“The shortage isn’t eggs themselves or the hens, the shortage is because farmers aren’t restocking hens or getting out of egg production early so culling their hens early because they cannot physically keep going with such losses.”
Pete continued: “The supermarkets are taking far too much out of the system – the average price is costing the producer £1.39 a dozen but we are only getting paid about £1.10 average. And yet – some supermarkets like Sainsbury’s are probably selling them for £3.30 at the moment, Waitrose are £5.50.”
“There’s such a gulf between retail price and what the farmer is getting yet the farmer is doing all the hard work, out there in the weather and got all the risks, including bird flu.”
British Free Range Egg Producing Association is an organisation that supports egg producers, and according to Pete and other farmers, the association has been warning since March this year that there would be a shortage of eggs by Christmas but supermarkets ‘didn’t listen’.
Another farmer, John Ridout, who is also a senior partner at a family-run farm, said the association had ‘absolutely no response from the supermarkets’ at all. John seconded what Pete said, agreeing that supermarkets have not been forthcoming in increasing the money they pay back to producers.
However, John has said that things are now slowly starting to change, with supermarkets realising that they need to increase what they pay farmers. He said it has been very difficult for packers and farmers: “All I’ve seen is prices go up in the supermarket and I don’t believe that’s been passed back to us”.
He explained that all base costs have gone up, including diesel, labour, power and insurance. John added: “We’re not greedy people, we just want to make a living”.
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