THE spread in huge chicken factories across the Herefordshire countryside looks like coming to an abrupt halt after one of the county’s biggest employers announced it is to focus its attentions elsewhere.
Avara Foods, formerly Sun Valley Poultry and Cargill Meats Europe, has written to farmers to tell them that there is ‘already more poultry production in Herefordshire than is required for the company’s Hereford factory’.
And, in a move that will surely delight many of those campaigning against broiler units, stated that they see their ‘growth opportunities’ many miles from Herefordshire.
John Reed, Avara’s agricultural director, said in the letter: “I am aware that there are a number of you thinking about or planning farm expansions or new farms and wanted to inform you of our new business decision at the earliest opportunity.
“In recent weeks the business has been finalising its business plan and conducting risk assessments and, in both cases, have concluded our growth opportunities are in supplying Brackley, not Hereford.
“We have therefore concluded that increasing this number and density of birds any further poses unacceptable risk to our businesses.
“The company will be looking to expand its chicken housing in an area between the M5 and the A1 over the next two to three years.
“We are also increasingly concerned about the size of large farms and individual poultry houses, farms over 400,000 birds can create legal compliance issues over the catch to kill process and potentially compromise turnaround times, in the future we will therefore cap new farms to this volume.
The firm employs around 2,250 people in and around Hereford at its two facilities in Grandstand and Yazor Road, as well as at its Allensmore Feed Mill and Hatcheries.
The last 10 years has seen a spike in planning applications from farmers wanting to develop broiler units to supply Cargill with thousands of birds each year.
With each pitch came many objections from those living near the proposed sites who feared an increase in both traffic and smell associated with the vast chicken sheds.
Ann Pearson, the former secretary of Allensmore a Clehonger Action Group, was one such resident who fought plans for broiler units in her community.
She said: “This news is too late for communities like ours which have had gigantic chicken factories imposed upon them.
“We told Herefordshire Council there were already far too many but our objections were dismissed.”
She claimed the county is now home to the highest number of chicken factories in the UK.
“This is directly due to collusion between the council and the big money influence of Cargill, now Avara,” she added.
“The news that local communities really want to hear is that many of these huge rural factories will be dismantled and put out of production so that the clean up can start.
“Instead rural communities are being left with the appalling consequences of having hundreds of thousands of chicken factories as neighbours.”
A spokesperson for Avara said the letter does not mean that any existing contracts with Herefordshire farmers will be lost.
“The purpose of the letter was to provide early notification of our longer-term plan,” he said.
“The letter won’t lead to cancelled contracts and, if we’re already working with growers on expansion plans, they’ll continue to receive our support.”