Poultry farmers Mark and Grainne Duffy’s lives are consumed by numbers: the 9,000 hens they have on their Monaghan farm, the 50 per cent increase already in the feed bills they face, and the losses they are already suffering on every egg leaving their farm.
The couple, who run the organic egg operation MGC Organic Farm in Ballybay, are facing a €125,000 increase in their usual feed bill to the end of April, while so far they have been unable to secure contracts from their feed supplier for after that date, such is the volatility of the market.
“The business is no longer about making money, it’s about surviving,” Duffy told the The Irish Times. “Feed has gone from €510 a tonne to €713 a tonne and there’s talk of a further €60-a-tonne rise. Things are getting crazy.”
The couple’s main issue is in sourcing organic certified grain. They have options to buy non-organic grain and switch to conventional barn eggs; but even then, the rise in feed costs means they might not make enough to cover the loans they have taken out.
“If it keeps going the way it is there might not be any organic eggs in the country in three or four months. We need an extra 5 cent per egg to keep us in business but the supermarkets aren’t covering the increases the farmer has to pay.
“Consumers need to understand what’s happening to the primary producer – many of us our on our knees,” Duffy said. “I’ve had to let part-time staff go and get a job off-farm just to keep the loans covered.
“The way things are going, my wife might have to get an off-farm job too to keep us going. It was always my dream to go full-time farming and things were going so well that I’d managed to do it, but I’ve had to go back working.”
The shadow cast by Russia's invasion of Ukraine is deepening by the day, he said, affecting not just himself and his wife, but also the pullet producer who breeds his young hens and the lorry drivers who deliver his grain.
As an organic farmer, Duffy had been using herbal leys – a mixture of forage grasses, herbs and legumes – for his hens as forage material to supplement their feed intake, but restrictions imposed to counter avian bird flu earlier in the year have created a “the perfect storm” for the industry.
“The big problem here is in securing meal. There were efforts to do it before but they never took off, and farmers would have difficulty securing the machinery that they need if they were to do it this year,” Duffy said.
For now, the Monaghan couple are left with major questions over the next two months, and few readily-available answers. If feed costs continue to rise they will have to approach the bank and pray that they can “ride it out”, he said.