HEREFORDSHIRE is to remain “very squarely” in focus for major poultry business, Avara Foods, the county’s biggest employers.

While Avara, formerly Sun Valley Poultry and Cargill Meats Europe has outlined plans to concentrate expansion at its plant in Northampton close to motorway networks, the company insists it will retain a strong commitment here in Herefordshire.

A letter to farmers earlier this summer explained that while the business wants to grow, any new farms taking on poultry production are likely to serve Avara’s Brackley facility where there is more scope for development. The company’s communications’ manager Jim Roberts said this week: “The true position is that there will be almost no change in Herefordshire.”

He said that any suggestions that Avara was leaving Hereford or reducing the company’s production here was “unsettling” for employees. “We are not leaving, closing any farms or cancelling any contracts,” he said.

In July, Avara’s agricultural director John Reed wrote to farmers in the county pointing out that the company’s “growth opportunities” were in supplying Brackley and not Hereford. “The company will be looking to expand its chicken housing in an area between the M5 and the A1 over the next two to three years,” said Mr Reed.

Meanwhile in Herefordshire, there would be no cancelled contracts as a result of Avara’s long-term plans, Mr Roberts emphasised. “If we’re already working with growers on expansion plans, they’ll continue to receive our support,” he said.

“The point the letter is trying to make is that, as a business that has openly said it wants to grow, any new farms that we take on are likely to serve our existing Northamptonshire facility, as that is where there is more scope for growth.

“We are certainly not reducing our production in Herefordshire, though there is scope for further growth in Brackley.”

Mr Reed’s letter stated that the company was “increasingly concerned” about the size of large farms and individual poultry houses. “Farms over 400,000 birds can create legal compliance issues over the catch to kill process and potentially compromise turnaround times, in the future we will therefore cap new farms to this volume,” he said.

The company employs around 2,250 people in and around Hereford at its two facilities in Grandstand Road and Yazor Road as well as at its Allensmore Feed Mill and Hatcheries. There has been a spike in planning applications from farmers wanting to develop broiler units in the last 10 years.