Singapore’s largest quail egg producer on the verge on losing decades-old farm as AVA awards tender to farms featuring automation

Singapore’s largest quail egg producer and one of the Republic’s longest-running farms Lian Wah Hang Farm is in danger of shutting down as the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) decides to award two land parcels in Lim Chu Kang to Chi Agri Holding, a smaller-scale quail egg producer, and N&N Agriculture respectively on Friday (21 Dec).

Speaking to TODAY Online during the tender process, William Ho, the owner of the decades-old family farm, revealed that AVA officers had spoken to him about the Authority’s preference for “automated processes”.

Noting that he has made plans to utilise improved solar-powered and wind-powered sheds in the new farm, Mr Ho said that his current farm features “cages with bases angled at 15 degrees that allow freshly laid eggs to roll to a collection tray, as well as incubators made from household items such as light bulbs and black plastic sheets”, which he suggested as being nowhere near outdated.

The land plots, which cost a total of S$977,000, were launched for tender to the public on 26 Jun. Lian Wah Hang Farm made a bid for both of the parcels as a strategy to compete with eggs imported from Malaysia, which, according to Mr Ho, has led to a significant decrease in his farm’s monthly revenue of S$90,000, or around 60 to 70 per cent.

Highlighting that he nearly paid a contractor a deposit to help him materialise the concept of the new farm, which would cost approximately S$5 million, Mr Ho lamented: “I put my whole body into the water. I even almost went bankrupt. Now, (the authorities seem to be) telling me, ‘You don’t need to swim. Stay on the shore. Forget about this race’.”

When asked by TODAY regarding his next move and the future of the 200,000 quails on his farm currently, Mr Ho said that while he was told by AVA that the Authority’s decision is final, he would nonetheless appeal to AVA for permission to continue operating at his current plot for at least 10 to 15 more years.

Purpose of bidding for land parcels “not to chase anybody out” but to seize a “business opportunity”: N&N CEO

Chief executive officer of N&N Ma Chin Chew, however, told TODAY that his business had no intention “to chase anybody out”, adding that N&N’s new venture in quail egg farming will benefit highly from Lian Wah Hang’s long-standing experience in the industry.

“William has been doing some good work, especially in the area of education. (What he does) is good for kids in Singapore. We can possibly work together,” he said.

Mr Ho, who is known as “Uncle William” in the Kranji farming community, hosts educational tours in his quail egg farm for preschoolers, and had just completed one when he was notified of his unsuccessful tender bid via a phone call with an AVA officer last Friday.

Mr Ma added that he “saw a business opportunity” in attempting to heighten “demand for quail eggs during non-festive months outside of Chinese New Year and Hari Raya”.

One of the ways in which N&N plans to do so is by selling “processed quail eggs” such as “hard-boiled eggs on skewers” instead of merely selling raw ones, according to Mr Ma.

With an initial investment of S$6 million for N&N’s set-up of its quail egg farm, he added that N&N aims to supply around 60,000 quail eggs daily.

Farms should be able to “maximise space and resources” and “operate on minimal manpower” to increase productivity: AVA

Much alike chicken eggs, Singapore’s sources of quail eggs as well as other food sources come from a “diverse” range of sources ranging from overseas imports to local farms in order to ensure a wide variety and stable supply, according to AVA.

An AVA spokesperson said: “All suppliers, including local farms and importers, will have to compete with other suppliers on an open market.”

According to AVA, the tenders were awarded using the Fixed Price method, which means that “the land price is fixed upfront and the tenderers compete based on concept”.

“This ensures that the tenderers with the best concept proposals win the tender, instead of the highest bid prices. Concept proposals were evaluated by a Tender Evaluation Committee comprising both external experts with deep knowledge in agriculture sciences and technology, as well as relevant Government agencies,” said the Authority.

In its announcement on 21 Dec, AVA explained that the tenders for agricultural land parcels were awarded based on “proposals that incorporated productive and innovative farming systems,” which include “mobile gully systems to automate crop spacing and retrieval, greenhouse cooling systems that can be controlled by light and temperature sensors, and quail egg farming systems with automatic feeders and egg retrieval belts”.

AVA’s Group Director for Food Supply Resilience Melvin Chow said: “Awarding this tranche of land tenders to these productive, innovative and sustainable proposals is a major step forward for the transformation of our agriculture sector. We hope to continue to see more tenderers with productive farming systems participating in future land tranches.”

While the Authority did not elaborate on whether it would allow more land parcels for quail egg farming, an AVA spokesperson stated that farms should be able to “maximise space and resources to result in highly intensive and productive farms that operate on minimal manpower” in order to keep up with the evolving landscape of agriculture and the economy as whole.

The Government, she added, also provides support to local farmers through the Agriculture Productivity Fund and “strategic research collaborations”.

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