CHANCES are, at least once this week (probably more), most of us will enjoy a meal of chicken.
It is our nation’s number one meat.
On average, Australians eat 46 kilograms of chicken meat per year – compared to about 25kgs of beef and 9.5kgs of lamb.
Australians flock to their supermarket shelves to stock up on whole chooks, breasts, thighs, wings and drumsticks.
Because when compared with most red meats, chicken is cheap (growers are paid less than $1 a bird in most circumstances!).
It is also versatile.
But how many of us stop to think about what happens before the white meat hits our plate and our taste buds?
The fact is we should.
Australian chicken growers are under extreme duress.
Pressure is mounting against their bottom lines – and its coming from almost every direction.
Spiralling upward energy prices, increasing labour and input costs and pressure from supply chain consolidation are all conspiring against chicken farmers.
Specifically, last week Queensland growers were hit with the surprise announcement of the closure of the Baiada processing plant in Ipswich.
Baiada being the parent company of well-known brands such as Steggles and Lilydale.
This decision places many growers in a precarious position, jeopardising their ability to service financial commitments and frankly, their ability to remain operating.
The affected producers will struggle to secure new contracts in what is a tight marketplace in an entirely domestic market.
In Victoria and South Australia, growers are in the thick of re-negotiating supply deals with Australia’s biggest chicken processor, Inghams.
No one expects such negotiations not to be hard – but they must be fair – to all parties.
An ability to collectively bargain and to be paid a fair and reasonable price are basic elements of such a process.
The chicken supply chain is not long and like most ag products, the margins are slim.
For this intensive industry to satisfy Australia’s hunger for chicken meat there must be a decent dollar to be made for all parties in the process.
The National Farmers’ Federation is working with, and on behalf of growers, to ensure farmers are paid commensurate to the work they do.
And we’re not afraid to ruffle a few feathers along the way.
*Tony Mahar is the Chief Executive Officer of the National Farmers’ Federation, the peak body representing the interests of Australian farmers and the greater agricultural sector.