A bright future at the British Pig & Poultry Fair

Pig and Poultry Fair 2024

Visitors to the British Pig & Poultry Fair were in high spirits, despite the challenges facing producers, with a key focus on sustainability and the next generation.

More than 330 exhibitors attended the Fair, held for the first time at the NEC, Birmingham – with over 8,320 visitors making for an increase on the last Fair held in 2022. “It was heartening to see producers so upbeat about the future after what’s been a very difficult few years for the pig and poultry sectors,” says Philip Gready, chairman at RASE.

“Our key themes were innovation, collaboration and sustainability, and bringing everyone together under one roof also delivered the important element of networking and sharing knowledge. I think everyone was just delighted to come back together, talking about current issues, opportunities and the future.”

Farm assurance

Amid changing consumer and public expectations, farm assurance schemes have been under the spotlight recently, so producers were keen to hear about the changes ahead. “Lessons have been learned (following the withdrawal of the Greener Farms Commitment),” said Philippa Wiltshire at Red Tractor. “Part of that is needing to engage with all stakeholders in the sector and significantly improving our farmer communication and engagement.”

Transparency, audit efficiencies and value to stakeholders are critical. To make audits easier Red Tractor will be making better use of data, and switching from an annual visit to two audits in 24 months, one of which must comprise a visit. “The principle of one standard fits all is no longer fit for the future so we may move to a modular choice, which we already have in the poultry sector.”

The Government’s proposed changes to food labelling, to illustrate a farm’s production model, received considerable attention during the Fair, with the supply chain almost unilaterally opposed. From a processing perspective, it would add complication and expense, while potentially confusing consumers and undermining the importance of Red Tractor assurance. “We are strongly advocating against these proposals,” said Ms Wiltshire.

Continuing to meet consumer demand was a strong theme across the different sectors: RSPCA Assured has experienced 81% growth over the past five years, while the egg sector has been transformed. Now, 70.5% of eggs sold are free-range, versus 77.8% being caged in 1999, said Mark Williams, chair of the British Egg Industry Council. “That has all been done by market demand.” And 95% of egg production in the UK is Lion Code assured, giving consumers confidence that eggs are safe and salmonella-free. “It’s been a huge success story.”

The environment is increasingly important to the public, so the Lion Code has strengthened this part of its assurance, he added. “If we don’t do it then the government will do it for us.”

However, the government is currently working against the British egg sector by seeking to dismantle import tariffs on foreign eggs – many of which are not salmonella free. “Our cost of production is way above others due to our higher standards, and without import tariffs we become totally uncompetitive, which is not fair on our producers. We have to maintain total trust in our eggs.”

Future consumers

Building consumer trust and confidence was also discussed in a pig forum, exploring how to reach the younger generations of consumers. Paul Flynn at East Durham College explained how the college farm opens its doors to 100s of children and students throughout the year, with extremely positive results. “They like our attention to detail, the science and nutrition – and the fact that we’re trying to be sustainable by growing and milling our own feed,” he said.

Although producers may be reticent to open their doors due to biosecurity risks and fear of anti-farming retribution, the benefits are considerable, and feedback has been entirely positive, he added.

Debbie Wilson at Ladies in Pigs agreed: “If you’re doing the right thing all day every day you’ve got to be proud of the food you produce. Be authentic, show your passion and allow questions.”

The advice is the same when engaging on social media or in schools, which AHDB is doing to reach school children and Generation Z (18-25-year-olds). “The more we do to promote positive stories the more it counters the negative, so please get involved,” said Kate Abby at AHDB.

A recent survey of Gen Z people found that health and value were the key drivers of buying decisions, so AHDB’s messaging centres on those elements, using social media influencers and videos to reach this digital-savvy audience. “Our farming ambassador videos have been really well received.”

Roz Reynolds at AHDB has been working with younger children, and using research to identify the most important ages to target and how. “There are 10m school children across the UK and 70% are interested in eating red meat,” she said. The peak of that interest is 12-14-year-olds, which directly correlates with practical cookery lessons in school.

However, 18% of respondents had given red meat up – equating to 1.8m children, she said. Of those, 74% had given it up at primary school, with 45% citing taste, 24% animal welfare, 20% because their parents stopped buying it, and 16% each for health and environmental reasons. “Primary school is a key watch area,” said Ms Reynolds.

Taking pork into schools and offering good recipes is helping to combat this, as is working with teachers, to influence the influencers. “And we’re supporting farmers who are opening their doors for the first time to deliver impactful farm visits. You’ve got your own networks and your own schools to reach, so help us get the word out.”

Future careers

Another part of this education is profiling the careers available within the agricultural sector, and the NFU Poultry Industry Programme (PIP) is a key way to give scholars an insight into the whole supply chain. Two beneficiaries shared their career paths in the Poultry Forum, including David Andrew who now works at ABN. “I absolutely love that no two days are the same. As someone with a non-farming background I was nervous about doing the PIP, but everyone is incredibly welcoming and transparent in sharing ideas.”

From a former career in scuba diving instruction and working in recycling, Stephanie Pedrick won the Zoetis-NFU poultry training award for developing her role as South West Area Manager for Hook2Sisters. “We were extremely impressed by Stephanie’s genuine enthusiasm and excitement towards the poultry industry,” said John Kenyon at Zoetis. “Stephanie is keen to encourage others to look towards the poultry industry for a worthwhile career.”

Someone else who’s carved out an incredible career in the poultry industry is Devon producer Robert Lanning. “I have been coming to the Pig & Poultry Fair since I was 16 years old, and I haven’t missed many since then,” he said. “It’s a fantastic event and feels really upbeat this year – it’s been one of the best ever.”