April 2016: Were TV appearances a missed opportunity?

I receive comments on various things throughout the year, and a big topic even a month after the event is TV appearances where Richard Lister and Zoë Davies were interviewed about the loss-making situation in the pig industry. Some commentators were sympathetic, but others less so with comments like “you should be promoting your industry, letting everyone know how good it is, how well controlled it is and what good-quality produce you have”. There’s a feeling that we were whingeing farmers again, and that an opportunity was missed.

Where do we draw the line? How do we cope with cheap imports? Without doubt some of the imports are okay, but I’m sure there are others produced cheaply under conditions not tolerated here – but do our retailers care? As we stand at the moment, we can’t produce 100% UK. When Pig World started in 1987, we were 105% self-sufficient in pork and 50% in bacon. I doubt if we are 50% in total now.

Had we the support of the processors and retailers, there’s no reason I can see why we shouldn’t still be in that situation, but producers have been driven out of production and it’s happening again now with producers you would think would be in the game forever, but are quitting before going bankrupt. I was told that one of our largest processors, which was rolling pigs just after Christmas, offered 90p/kg to help producers out. Very generous of them; no wonder their profits have increased.

Having seen pig production in a lot of countries, I’m still very proud of what we do here.  Some of the production scenarios in many countries, not all I hasten to add, leave a lot to be desired – including flagrantly breaking the rules, for which we would be financially penalised or taken out of business.

It never ceases to amaze me how resilient our industry has been over the years, and the new housing systems are unbelievable, giving conditions which allow for the best FCR and growth rates along with animal welfare. Health programmes have also played their part, and it’s very seldom these days I come across coughing or scour. Increased numbers born are now coped with much better, and of course nutrition is unrecognisable.

Keeping abreast of modernisation costs money, and currently that’s something our industry is lacking big style. Any money pig farmers have made over the years has mostly been invested back to improve their business. At the moment, producers are seeing their bank accounts cleared out, and there’s nothing left to keep paying for improvements, some of which haven’t yet been fully paid for.

I wonder how many would have spent the money they have if they’d had a crystal ball to forecast the current situation? I also wonder how many who survive will think twice before getting into the same situation again?

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About The Author

Sam Walton is a Yorkshire farmer and former pig producer, and the founding editor of Pig World.