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East Anglia should be proud of its poultry industry, says NFU Norfolk adviser John Newton

PUBLISHED: 12:00 28 August 2018 | UPDATED: 13:27 28 August 2018

Mark Caston at 2 Sisters Food Group's chicken factory at Flixton.  Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Mark Caston at 2 Sisters Food Group's chicken factory at Flixton. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

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There are countless reasons why East Anglia should be proud of its nationally-important poultry industry, says JOHN NEWTON, Norfolk county adviser for the National Farmers' Union (NFU).

Poultry workers at Gressingham Foods at Debach, near Woodbridge. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWNPoultry workers at Gressingham Foods at Debach, near Woodbridge. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

East Anglia has much to be proud of – fantastic beaches, beautiful countryside, world-leading universities and its poultry industry.

It’s a region sometimes called the bread basket of England because of its arable farming but the fact that East Anglia produces over a quarter of the country’s chickens should not be overlooked.

The UK produces around 1bn meat chickens a year – with 250m of them coming from East Anglia. The vast majority of these will be reared to Red Tractor assurance standards.

Red Tractor is the only assurance scheme in the UK that covers the entire supply chain from farm to fork, with standards focusing on animal health and welfare but also food safety and hygiene, traceability and staff training.

John Newton, Norfolk county adviser for the National Farmers' Union (NFU) Picture: BRIAN FINNERTYJohn Newton, Norfolk county adviser for the National Farmers' Union (NFU) Picture: BRIAN FINNERTY

The Red Tractor logo on-pack means your chicken has met these robust and responsible production standards and is traceable back to independently-inspected chicken farms in the UK.

The region plays a key part in the production of turkeys as well. The modern UK turkey industry grew from humble beginnings in Norfolk to a position of producing over 13m turkeys a year today, 39% of which are grown in East Anglia.

The majority of the turkeys we eat at Christmas in East Anglia will be from the large nationally known companies such as Bernard Matthews, Gressingham, and Traditional Norfolk Poultry.

However, there are hundreds of small scale ‘seasonal’ producers rearing and processing small numbers of turkeys using traditional methods. For many of these producers, seasonal turkey production forms a very useful additional source of income to supplement earnings from their main stream farming activities.

These small scale producers often use slow growing strains of birds and hand pluck and ‘dress’ their turkeys by hand to produce a succulent, full flavoured bird. White feathered birds are still produced, but in recent years there has been a major switch to producing bronze and black feathered birds.

Outlets for these turkeys are generally the local independent retail butcher or sales from the farm gate. However, some producers are now selling an increasing number of turkeys via the internet, through their online shops.

Nearly a half of the ducks produced in the country come from East Anglian duck farms, mostly from the leading company in the sector Gressingham Farms. The company has grown massively since it was formed around 40 years ago to a point where it now employs over 500 employees on its various breeding, production and processing sites.

Eating egg production, mostly in the form of free range eggs, is not as important at the poultry meat sector in terms of its share of the total UK production but still accounts for around 10% of UK production.

This part of the poultry industry has seen continued growth in recent years with free range egg sales now accounting for a half of all egg sales in the UK. There is likely to be continued growth in free range egg production as most UK supermarkets have stated that they will only stock free range eggs in their stores by 2025.

Some existing arable producers in the region have recently decided to invest in a free range egg production enterprise to provide an alternative source of income on their farms.

But it’s not just the production of eggs and meat that the region excels in. A significant proportion of the country’s breeding stock is housed here and, linked to them, a number of hatcheries that produce the stock that goes on to poultry growing farms.

Poultry production should not be seen in isolation though. It is an integrated part of the whole agricultural sector in the region, be it the use of arable straw for bedding of ducks, the production of poultry manure for spreading on fields to provide nutrition for growing crops or the amount of grain all those birds consume.

Certainly the poultry sector in the region is one to be proud of.

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