Red Robin..is a producer and industry insider at the heart of the British pig industry
I came home to the family farm in the summer of 1997, which means – rather scarily – I have been farming for 20 years.
At roughly that time, the bottom fell out of pigs (I don’t think it was my fault) and it stayed out for a considerable amount of time.
I braved a visit to the far reaches of our office loft this afternoon for research purposes and pulled out the bacon returns for 2002 and found the details of the load we sent on February 27 that year.
We produced pigs as good then as we do now and they achieved 87.41% top grade, 10.5mm average P2 measurement and we were paid an average of 86.90p/kg.
That was not an extraordinary week either. As a result of these desperately low prices I joined marches in London, I did a stint with Winnie the Pig, who lived in an ark in Parliament Square for a while to highlight our lack of profitability, and I supported demonstrations outside Downing Street.
There were nighttime visits to supermarket distribution depots, protests outside the British Retail Consortium and we barricaded the entrance to the Port of Felixstowe.
Many of these activities were organised by the British Pig Industry Support Group, who, outwardly, were a militant band of renegades but were, in fact, a perfectly respectable group of people trying to defend their life’s work.
These were desperate times: people’s livelihoods were slipping away from them and there was a mass exodus from the industry. As so often in times of trouble, some good came out of it. The camaraderie and friendships that were formed at that time still exist in our industry today.
Gradually, protest turned to proactive actions and the National Pig Association was formed and played (and still plays) a vital role in the support of our industry by supporting producers and ensuring our voice is heard in Parliament.
It is easy to become complacent when prices are 168p/kg and many of us have built replacement buildings on the back of these strong prices. Equally, there are many of us who will be in serious trouble if the price hits the deck again.
It is perfectly possible, that within my lifetime we will have another perfect storm and prices will crash. I hope that the skills and lessons we learned in those dark times are remembered and that we will never forget that as an industry we need to pull together and fight our own corner.