Comment: Locally reared birds best for taste

Farmers have been hard at work preparing birds for Christmas dinner plates.
Farmers have been hard at work preparing birds for Christmas dinner plates.
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CHRISTMAS is such a busy a time for everyone with lots of parties and festivities but please spare a thought for one group of people who spend all the hours possible in the run up to Christmas producing top quality fresh turkeys for our dinner tables.

Having previously spent two-and-a-half years as national poultry advisor for the NFU, I’ve spent a lot of time learning about turkey farmers’ businesses. They were a great group of people to work with and I was always impressed by the passion they have for the job of feeding the nation on such an important day.

It’s always a team effort - with every family member playing a part. Even children get involved using their technology skills to set up social media accounts to promote their birds. For me, Christmas turkeys are the one British food item where it’s hard for major retailers to compete with local farm suppliers. I would certainly urge all consumers to go and try their local supplier - you won’t be disappointed.

So how can you find your local producer? Just search ‘turkey finder’ online and you will be able to type in your postcode and find your local turkey producer with a couple of clicks. You will then be able to choose a bird that’s been fed a natural diet, has been bred for its natural flavour and has been lovingly reared locally.

Every year the NFU runs marketing meetings around Yorkshire to help keep turkey farmers up to speed on market developments for seasonal birds. I was pleased to tell them this year that on the whole it’s been a great year for turkeys. We’ve had some great quality poults - turkey chicks - and the weather has been favourable. Poultry feed prices have been stable too so this all means that retail prices will be very similar to previous years.

Consumer choices have changed over recent years when it comes to turkeys. We’ve seen more people buying smaller birds for instance and turkey crowns are popular. This could be due to smaller average family sizes or maybe people are just having turkey for the big day and not having so many leftover sandwiches on Boxing Day. There has also been a rise in the number of other birds being sold – particularly goose. Quite a few turkey farmers have told me they have more people requesting goose than ever before, so there will definitely be more geese available this year.

The NFU has a dedicated website urging consumers to back British farming at Christmas. More than 20,000 visitors have used the NFU’s dedicated turkey website and a further 12,000 people have sought out British turkeys using the turkey finder. This all helps ensure a future for British farmers. And of course it isn’t just turkeys that farmers produce at Christmas. The festive season is a time for other great specialities, the humble roast potato, pigs in blankets and of course gorgeous green sprouts.

Christmas dinner is the cornerstone of Christmas Day, but British agriculture has a far wider part to play at this time of year producing everything from Christmas trees and plants to beers. Through the Back British Farming website, you can get the latest news stories, recipes and activities for children as well as advice on how to dispose of your Christmas tree after the holidays so it is well worth taking a look.

It’s safe to say the whole farming industry is hard at work making sure your Christmas is the best ever. Merry Christmas everyone!

Chris Dickinson is a county adviser for the National Farmers’ Union.