Growing burdens, avian flu: French reproduction in turmoil

The devastating recovery from bird flu has taken poultry farmers by surprise in a livestock world already stunned by the soaring prices of grain supplied to animals, energy and fertilizer from the war in Ukraine.

The French poultry sector already considers that it is facing “the most serious health crisis in its history”, according to the interprofessional Anvol, which speaks of a crisis “as violent as it is unexpected”.

Admittedly, this is the fourth time since 2015 that France has been affected by bird flu. But the epidemic is taking an unprecedented scale this season. Until then confined to the southwest, it has recently spread to the west of the Pays de la Loire, the second largest poultry producing region behind Brittany.

Millions of ducks and other birds have been culled or are in the process of being culled to contain the virus that infected 792 farms as of March 15, including 338 on the Vendée alone.

The farms will stop housing animals for several weeks, reducing national production and causing “temporary tensions in the supply of certain products, but there is no shortage”, estimates the director of Anvol, Yann Nédélec.

The devastating recovery from bird flu has taken poultry farmers by surprise in an agricultural world already stunned by rising grain prices (AFP/Archives – IROZ GAIZKA)

“There is a lot of despair at the level of the producers, who are miserable and suffer a blow to their morale and their finances”, Christophe Labour, union leader of the FNSEA in the Pays de la Loire, which produces chickens and turkeys, told AFP.

He “already hears creators, sometimes within a few years of retirement, who say + OK, this is the last time it happens to me +, and they don’t want to continue” their activity.

“There is undeniably a feeling of accumulation within the poultry sector, which was already suffering from the rising cost of raw materials, energy and now the war in Ukraine that accentuates things even more”, summarizes Labor.

Poultry, such as pigs, are big consumers of wheat, corn or soybeans, whose prices – already high – have been soaring from record to record since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Feeding these animals represents 65 to 75% of the production cost.

– “The round back” –

The devastating recovery from bird flu has taken poultry farmers by surprise in a livestock world already stunned by soaring cereal prices (AFP/Archives - Jean-François MONIER)
The devastating recovery from bird flu has taken poultry farmers by surprise in a livestock world already stunned by soaring cereal prices (AFP/Archives – Jean-François MONIER)

“Our French poultry and rabbit sectors are in great danger, with bankruptcies and cessations of activity that will accelerate,” warned Tuesday in a press release Jean-Michel Schaeffer, who chairs both Anvol and the French Confederation. de l’aviculture (CFA), specialized section of the FNSEA.

The latter deplores a “wall of charges”: “increase in the cost of animal feed for seventeen consecutive months”, but also electricity, gas, diesel, fertilizers…

Poultry and pork producers are asking for more to pass on these costs.

“When we see wheat at 400 euros per ton or more, soybeans at 600 euros per ton, not to mention the other charges (…) it would be 2.2” euros per kilo of carcass against 1.55 currently, estimates François Valy , president of the National Swine Federation (FNP), a specialized association of the FNSEA.

However, “we don’t see the end of the tunnel”, summarizes Thomas Guégan.

The breeder Morbihan, who sells 4,000 pigs a year, is not the most pitiable: he produces wheat and corn on his farm.

But his stocks are dwindling and he will have to buy wheat in April, which he expects to pay at least €450 per tonne delivered, up from €250 at the same time in normal times.

“For now, we’re hunkering down, we’re doing what we can,” but “it’s looking bad.” He sees “people who stop earlier than expected, who are fed up. For some, the data has been released. It started last winter, the situation of the last few weeks has only accelerated things.”

Even before the war in Ukraine, pig farmers’ treasures were visibly melting, prompting the government to announce a €270 million “rescue plan” in late January.

Producers now expect specific help as part of the “resilience plan” to be announced by the executive on Wednesday.

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