Urgent summit requested to tackle pig sector crisis
The National Pig Association (NPA) and the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) are calling on Defra Secretary George Eustice to convene an urgent supply chain summit to discuss the ongoing pig sector crisis.
In a joint letter, NPA chairman Rob Mutimer and NFU president Minette Batters requested action to improve the industry support package that has delivered “minimal benefit” to pig producers so far.
The NPA said that they are aware of only 105 butchers that have arrived, or are due to arrive, using the temporary visa scheme first launched in October 2021. In addition, Defra has received only three applications for Private Storage Aid and there has been no take up at all of the Slaughter Incentive Payment Scheme.
The current challenges
According to Defra figures, the backlog of pigs on farms stood in excess of 170,000 before Christmas, with numbers increasing rapidly over the Christmas period due to slaughtering days lost to bank holidays and Covid-related worker absences.
NPA and NFU reported that some British farmers saw as few as 50% of contracted pigs taken by processors in the first week after New Year, with average levels still at around 30% of contracted pigs not being taken on a weekly basis.
Average carcase weights have also continued to rise, now topping 95kg, nearly 9kg heavier than two years ago.
Within the letter, NPA stated that more than 35,000 healthy pigs have been culled and disposed of as a result of the backlog since September, although the actual number, when unreported cases are taken into account, will be much higher.
The NPA knows of 30,000 sows that have been removed in the last six months, equating to around 10% of the English sow herd, but this is likely to be an underestimate.
Challenging market conditions, exacerbated by the costs associated with the backlog, record pig feed costs and falling pig prices mean farmers have now been losing approximately £25 per pig for nearly a year. The organisations are aware of 40 independent farms that have left the industry as a result of the ongoing pressures.
The way forward
The NPA and NFU is requesting that George Eustice improve the visa application process to make access simpler and quicker in order to help reduce the backlog. The letter also calls for Defra to encourage retailers to run marketing campaigns to increase British pork sales. According to the NPA and NFU, only Morrisons and Waitrose have done this so far.