Keeping it in the family - Norfolk chicken farmer Patrick Joice succeeds his father Nigel in NFU Poultry role
PUBLISHED: 10:00 24 March 2018 | UPDATED: 10:49 24 March 2018
A chicken farmer has replaced his father on the NFU Poultry Board – maintaining Norfolk’s national voice at a vital time for this important East Anglian farming sector.
The value of the poultry industry to the East Anglian economy – and to the nation’s dinner plates – cannot be overstated.
It contributes £648m to the East’s gross agricultural output, supplying a quarter of England’s table chicken while laying hens on East Anglian farms produce about 2.2 million eggs a day.
So it is vital that the region has a strong voice within the discussions which could shape the industry’s future. And this figurehead role has become something of a family tradition for the father and son team at Uphouse Farm in South Raynham, near Fakenham.
Patrick Joice, 44, has been appointed to the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) Poultry Board, succeeding his father Nigel, 71, who has stepped down after 19 years as an East Anglian representative.
While limiting the risk of bird flu remains the number one issue for his industry, Patrick said there are also concerns over post-Brexit labour availability, and whether new trade deals will bring cheaper imports with lower welfare standards which could affect the competitiveness of East Anglian poultry businesses.
But his key message is to inspire more public engagement and to get farming’s next generation enthused about poultry.
The farm is in the process of converting an old cart shed into accommodation for agricultural students who want to experience working on a commercial broiler unit – something their college may not otherwise be able to give them access to.
Patrick, who also chairs the UK’s Poultry Industry Programme, said: “My big drive is to encourage youngsters into the industry.
“For those students, sitting in a classroom all the time is not the place to learn about poultry. If we can get them out here we can show them.”
His father Nigel agrees. “My perception is that livestock is probably not as glamorous as sitting on a very modern high-powered tractor with GPS and all the bells and whistles – but it is probably more rewarding when you get into it,” he said. “We have to entice young people to come and have a look.”
Patrick said there is also an increasing onus on individual farms to engage with their consumers through events such as the Norfolk Spring Fling and Open Farm Sunday. In 2012, the farm built a temporary viewing gallery, allowing visitors to see through a window into its chicken sheds.
He said: “We had over 800 visitors on the day and the survey company said they had never seen such a swing of opinion from people coming onto a farm, which does highlight that when people understand what we are doing, how we are doing it and why we are doing it, it takes some of the distrust away.”
Patrick said some of that mistrust has been created by the poultry industry’s need to keep the public away from farms as a precaution against the spread of bird flu – still his biggest concern for the industry. He said the discovery of an infected wild swan on the Norfolk Broads last July proved the disease was now a year-round threat.
“All we can do is to make sure we maintain our biosecurity, because the only way the disease gets to our chickens is if we walk it in,” he said. “At a farm level, everyone needs to be looking at their biosecurity all year round and making sure they have a contingency plan in place.
“An outbreak threatens the local industry, because there would be movement restrictions in the area and that knocks on to the effect on ‘export UK’ because we then couldn’t export our meat out of the country.”
Both Joices said they wanted to highlight the “great job” done by Defra in dealing with the outbreaks of bird flu which affected farms in south Norfolk last winter, and installing preventative measures which they said had helped reduce the number of incidents this year.
The broiler business at Uphouse Farm started in 1997, and now has 840,000 birds on a 49-day flock cycle, rearing about 6m birds per year for Banham Poultry. There is also a 1,500-acre arable operation and a biomass plant, built in 2011, which burns the waste manure from one flock to provide heat and electricity for the next.
KEEPING IT IN THE FAMILY
Patrick Joice said he was “honoured” to represent East Anglia’s poultry farmers – but some persuasion was needed before he took his father’s place on the NFU Poultry Board.
Nigel Joice said: “I am in my 72nd year, and my 19th on the poultry board, but I felt there ought to be more younger people involved, so I informed them that I didn’t want to stand next time around. The comment I had back from the NFU’s chief poultry adviser, Gary Ford, was: ‘Is Patrick interested?’
“He had said no before, but I gave it another try to convince him. He knows what I have got out of being in the NFU Poultry Board for so long. For one thing, I like to think we as a board have had some sort of influence on the rules and regulations, and I believe that has probably given me an edge regarding our business.
Patrick said: “There was a bit of a change of heart. When father stepped down from the board I felt that was where he belonged. I still do.
“But I felt I couldn’t ignore the opportunity to get involved because we have got to look to the future and the benefits to our business and to the wider industry.”