Major supermarkets are being urged to support Victorian poultry farmers instead of potentially prioritising interstate processors during the pandemic.
Australian Chicken Growers Council president Allan Bullen, Lang Lang, said second-tier state-based processors were struggling following the collapse of the domestic foodservice sector due to coronavirus.
Second-tier processors supply to the likes of fast food restaurants such as McDonalds, KFC and Nandos but with new stage four restrictions for metropolitan Melbourne, and more lenient restrictions in regional Victoria, Mr Bullen feared the slowdown of the hospitality sector could create a surplus supply of chooks.
"Their markets are drying up because of these restrictions," Mr Bullen said.
Australia has two major poultry processors - Inghams and Baiada - which supply Woolworths and Coles, respectively.
The two processors alone grow about 70 per cent of the 640 million chickens grow in Australia each year.
In Victoria, the state has three processors including Turosi, Geelong and Thomastown, and Hazeldenes, Kangaroo Flat, as well as Inghams.
"We need these smaller processors to be viable at the end of the six-week lockdown," Mr Bullen said.
"Victoria imports about 25 million birds a year from NSW and SA and that's why I'm concerned because it would be very easy for Coles or Wollies to source their birds from interstate," Mr Bullen said.
Last week, Premier Daniel Andrews said poultry processing facilities would go down to 80 per cent of normal production levels.
He said the different life cycle of poultry meant any less would lead to significant shortages, and hundreds of thousands of animals being destroyed.
"The government made the right decision because if they had not changed their criteria and left processing at 66 per cent capacity, we could have seen chickens destroyed and not processed," Mr Bullen said.
"The priority for our industry is animal welfare and the supermarkets can help the three processors in Victoria to remain viable because it's in their interest to have competitive prices while at the same time giving farmers a place for processing."
Mr Bullen urged Coles and Woolworths to open discussions with second-tier processors in Victoria to ensure continued supply and demand while the foodservice sector operated at reduced capacity.
Mornington Peninsula poultry farmer Owen Shaw, Red Hill, is president of the Inghams Grower Group in Victoria, a sub-group of the VFF, and contract grows about 750,000 birds for the company annually.
He said the biggest concerns for growers was an outbreak of coronavirus in one of the four major processing facilities in Victoria, which could affect tight production models and rotating cycles.
"We grow out birds out to seven or eight weeks so after that we have a week to two weeks to clean and disinfect the sheds before we bring in our new birds," Mr Shaw said.
"The birds I have in my sheds will be processed within a week and the day-olds are already in the hatchery so if there is a shutdown and these birds can't processed, that could cause complex supply chain issues."
Mr Shaw said a backlog in chooks could result in birds being trucked interstate for processing or worst case scenario being destroyed.
"As long as those plants stay open, there will always be a steady supply of chicken," Mr Shaw said.
"But if everyone wants products like chicken schnitzels or trade packs which are seasoned, they may be hard to come by if there was an outbreak of coronavirus."