Crisis talks as pig sector in 'most critical state for 20 years'

The NPA estimates that on average, farmers are losing around £20 on each pig they produce
The NPA estimates that on average, farmers are losing around £20 on each pig they produce

Pig producers have welcomed roundtable talks with the government seeking to avert a crisis which has left the sector 'at its most critical state for 20 years.'

Defra Farming Minister Victoria Prentis chaired a roundtable event on Tuesday, which was also attended by Defra Secretary George Eustice and industry representatives.

It was held at the request of the National Pig Association (NPA) to discuss the series of events that has seen thousands of pigs build up on farms due to Covid-19 problems in pork plants and export disruption since January.

This, coupled with a lack of China re-certification for several abattoirs and new Brexit related issues, have created a backlog of in excess of 100,000 pigs on farm.

NPA chief executive Zoe Davies said positive discussions with the government and sector officials must now turn into action.

“We were able to raise our concerns and discuss what could be done at departmental level, but also across the supply chain in terms of sourcing more British pork to prevent what could turn into a very serious situation for the sector."

NPA chairman Richard Lister, who farms pigs in Yorkshire and Nottinghamshire, said the backlog was growing and pig farming was at its most critical state for 20 years.

“The net effect of this has been that many more pigs need to be cared for and provided with increasingly expensive feed and straw, resulting in rapidly declining cashflows and mounting losses for producers," he said at the meeting.

It is estimated that, on average, UK producers are losing around £20 on each pig they produce, according to the NPA.

But whilst the sector has farm contingency plans in place to cope with short term difficulties in moving livestock, these plans cannot be sustainable in the face of continuing and further backlogs.

These comments were reinforced by the striking findings of a recent pig producer survey by the NPA, illustrating the problems farmers are facing.

The vast majority of producers (86%) reported having pigs ‘rolled’ by processors, held over to a later date, therefore having to keep them on farm for longer than would usually be the case.

Most farmers (88%) are already or expect to be in a loss-making situation soon, and 84% said this situation was having a negative impact on mental health.

At the meeting, the processors, represented by the British Meat Processors Association (BMPA), outlined the issues they had faced related to Brexit and Covid, but stressed that regaining access to China was the single most effective way to resolve the current issues.

NPA chief executive Zoe Davies agreed that China was important for some, but said that this would take time, which was something that the sector did not have.

“Retailers present were also supportive and said that demand for British pork was currently strong, so if processors could provide the product, they would sell it,” she said.

“Whilst the biggest demand was for bacon, which is something that British pig farmers cannot produce enough of, one helpfully suggested that we ask AHDB to look at national carcase balance to see which cuts could benefit from further promotion.”