Buchan egg farmers looking to future with £2.5 million upgrade

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A KEY player in the Scottish farming industry has recently revealed plans to expand its Buchan base with a £2.5 million upgrade to facilities.

Situated in the Buchan countryside near Strichen, Farmlay Eggs is the second-largest egg packer in Scotland and, as a family-led business which has been running since 1946, it has seen a lot of changes in its time.

Originally started up by his mother and father, Robert Chapman has been at the helm of the ever-expanding business since 1997, along with his wife Ethel, and son Iain.

To comply with new legistlation being introduced by the EC, Farmlay Eggs has applied to the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) to alter its existing building in order to make way for an expansion.

Speaking to the Buchanie, Mr Chapman said that one of the main reasons they are planning to expand their business, including increasing the amount of laying birds from 210,000 to 234,400, is to comply with newly-introduced legislation regarding the modernisation of equipment.

“One of the main reasons for upgrading is that from January next year, the old equipment will not be legal anymore - a lot is changing and the facilities will now be state-of-the-art. It will also safeguard jobs, as we are investing in the future of the company. It is a significant project and shows our commitment to the future of the industry as well,” he said.

Mr Chapman added that although around 55 to 60 per cent of their total egg production is from caged hens, the rest are free-range with a small number being organic.

He asserted that the rise of free-range products within supermarkets has not greatly impacted upon the family business, with the past six to seven months of free-range egg growth slowing down as the recession has taken its toll.

He also said how producing free-range products has been a “good opportunity” for farmers to diversify.

“It has almost gone full circle and gone back to around 50 years ago. As times are tight, people are coming away from free-range eggs and going back to buying caged. However, the introduction of free-range products is a great opportunity for farmers and has been huge within the industry,” he said.

But he admitted that the market has proved difficult recently, with the cost of production increasing as feed costs grow higher.

“It is the feed that is costly, as wheat and barley has gone up, it has gone up by more than £100 per tonne. And 60 per cent of the cost of producing a dozen eggs is feed,” he added.

Producing two-and-a-half million eggs per week, with a workforce of around 45 people, the new state-of-art facilties at West Cockmuir Farm will not only safeguard jobs, but will also reduce noise, smell and pollution, Mr Chapman claimed.

“The airdryer within the building reduces ammonia, which therefore reduce the smell emmisions. It is also a naturally ventilated building, which means less noise and less dust,” he said.

The new muck store also ensures that everything remains under cover.

As the expansion of facilities is set to be completed within the next two months, the Chapmans are optimistic about the future of the industry.

Mr Chapman said: “We are making an investment to stand still to traditional cages, but at the same time modernising our equipment.”

With their main customer being supermarket-giant Morrisons, Mr Chapman says that their customers are fully committed to Scottish produce and that remains their number one priority.

“Morrisons pride themselves on providing Scottish produce, but most supermarkets here do.

“It is becoming more and more important for customers to know where they are getting their products from, consumers like to see that and we have always aimed for customer satisfaction,” he said.