Agriculture This Week - How do farmers recover cost of change?

There is increased awareness of animal welfare needs on farms these days.

Not where are concerns more defined for many than in the case of how chickens are raised.

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There is a perception that the common cages used in many operations are far from ideal in terms of keeping laying hens happy at least as compared a more natural approach to raising hens that would see them with greater freedom to roam.

But the idea of large scale laying operations to move to hens running free range  collecting eggs in, akin to the small farm hen houses of a half century ago, is not exactly reasonable in our world either unless the entire farm system of agriculture reverts to smaller scale farming. The trend to ever larger farms dates back to the end of the first Great War, so don’t expect that trend to suddenly change.

That said consumers and common sense are going to push producers to change things, moving at least a step or two away from the image of crowded cages.

The question for producers is how to balance the cost of such changes with maintaining production and returns.

A recent international study has come out suggesting adopting higher welfare indoor systems doesn’t increase costs as much as once thought.

The 32-page report from World Animal Protection, an animal welfare organization with offices in Toronto and around the globe, is suggesting the added cost would be 13 per cent.

The 13 per cent may not sound like a great increase, although to suggest every operation could make changes and only see that increase is a bit hard to buy into. It would most likely be a range depending on various factors, meaning increases for some, and maybe even some lower.

Either way there are not a lot of businesses that can see costs rise 13 per cent without concerns regarding the impact on the bottom line.

While consumers might want better animal welfare there is not a lot of evidence they want to pay more for food from farms investing in change, and certainly no indication the broader food processing system will pay more.

So how does a farmer absorb the cost of moving to decreasing the number of birds in a barn, adding straw, and evening changes the bloodlines of the birds is a huge question for producers.

There is little doubt farmers are going to be pushed to change, and numbers like 13 per cent make it seem reasonable, but taking that sort of hit to the bottom line will cause issues for producers making the adjustment.

 Calvin Daniels is Editor with Yorkton This Week.

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