Reduced labour availability in Northern Ireland's pig processing plants is now causing huge financial pressure on farms, the Ulster Farmers' Union has warned.
The Northern Irish pig sector's ability to handle the number of animals that must be processed each week has to be addressed, the union said on Tuesday (16 November).
It said the problem was directly linked to labour shortages and while this was affecting other sectors too, pig producers were 'by far taking the biggest hit'.
UFU President Victor Chestnutt said the region's pig producers were being left to manage a significant backlog on farm on their own.
“This means bearing the cost of keeping and feeding stock ready for market, this is taking a toll on already slim margins," he said.
"The inability to send pigs to slaughter at the appropriate time also risks these animals falling outside the specification required by the consumer, and carries a further penalty to the farmer."
Pig producers are in the middle of a perfect storm of weaker global demand, price pressure and an inability to move stock off farm in a timely way.
Adding to these issues, pig processing firm Karro recently slashed the price of finished pigs.
It comes as Defra opened two support schemes this week for English pig producers to help reduce the backlog of pigs on farm.
The UFU has pressed for a meeting with the Department of Agriculture (DAERA) Minister Edwin Poots to discuss ways to alleviate NI's pig sector crisis.
"Producers, already facing significant cash flow pressures are taking a financial hit from this problem, not of their making,” Mr Chestnutt said.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, DAERA has paid out over £23.5m to impacted farming businesses of all sectors.
In August, a support package worth £1.7m opened for the pig sector, which saw a significant fall in the price producers received for cull sows from May 2020.