NPA seeks Government intervention on market situation, labour shortage and China export export loss

The NPA has written to two Government Ministers calling for intervention to help address three ongoing industry issues – the perilous state of the market, the labour supply crisis and the loss of pork exports to China.

In a letter to Victoria Prentis, NPA chairman Rob Mutimer said.  “Since our last discussion in February, the plight of British pig farmers and pigmeat processors has continued to worsen, and we are now facing a sector crisis that threatens the long-term viability of this essential part of our rural economy.”

Mr Mutimer called for direct intervention and action in three areas:

  • The creation of a compensation package for those in the industry most heavily impacted by this current crisis, similar to what has already been delivered by other devolved administrations. This follows a request by the NPA in March, which Defra has still not responded to.
  • A renewed urgency in requesting that the Foreign & Commonwealth Office does everything it can to pave the way for China to re-list the processing plants previously closed by COVID-19 outbreaks.
  • Action to increase supply in the labour market to tackle the shortage of workers, in partnership with the Home Office.

Mr Mutimer explained that pig farmers lost an average of £26 per pig in the first quarter of this year, collectively totalling an estimated £73m, and are still losing money on the back of record production costs, with some producers leaving the sector.

“These losses clearly can’t be sustained. Surveys of our membership have shown us that already this year, 13,000 sows have exited the pig sector as farmers can no longer afford to remain in the industry. We know of many other farmers who are considering their position and who may exit the industry in the coming months as the dire financial situation becomes unsustainable,” he wrote.

He also stressed how the current shortage in the labour market is ‘now becoming desperate across the supply chain and in many other sectors’. “The combination of COVID, furlough, new immigration rules and expansion of jobs in other sectors, such as home delivery, has left us with an acute shortage of workers. On farms, this could potentially lead to welfare problems and in supermarkets we may see empty shelves,” he added.

Processors have blamed staff resourcing problems means combined with the loss of China access for some key UK pork plants as reasons why they are unable to increase the price paid for the pigs to support the market.

They may even have to reduce slaughter days because of the lack of staff and Mr Mutimer warned this could take the industry straight back to the ‘dark days; during the COVID pandemic last year of pig backlogs on farms, but with farmers will no longer having the funds to pay the feed bills.

China support

The NPA has also joined forces with other industry organisations, including the NFU, the British Meat Processors Association (BMPA), Pilgrim’s and Cranswick, in writing to Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab to ask the Government to take a proactive approach to discussions with China about re-listing British processing plants currently banned from exporting to the country as a result of previous COVID-19 outbreaks.

It describes the growing export market for UK pork in China is ‘an absolutely vital lifeline’, but says this essential trade is, however, being hamstrung by the loss of China export licences at three major pork processing sites: Ashton Under Lyne in Greater Manchester, Watton in Norfolk and Brechin in Scotland.

“The losses at these sites alone are amounting to around £50m a year, but as these are major regional hubs, the impact is much wider,” the letter states.

The letter explains how liaison with Chinese officials indicates that assurances from the industry of the safety of our sites are not enough. Their authorities are seeking further assurances and representation from HM Government.

It calls on the Foreign Secretary for help in three areas:

  • HM Government makes further efforts to press the Chinese authorities to reinstate China licences for UK pork exporters;
  • The Foreign Secretary meets with us to discuss a way forward for the above: we are happy to support FCO in any way we can in dealing with the Chinese;
  • HM Government more widely considers urgent support for Britain’s pig industry, as Scotland and Northern Ireland have done.

“Reopening our market with China would be a real success story for the UK’s post-Brexit trade, and for the livelihoods of many thousands of farmers and workers in our industry,” the letter states.

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Editor of LBM titles Pig World and Farm Business and group editor of Agronomist and Arable Farmer. National Pig Association's webmaster. Previously political editor at Farmers Guardian for many years and also worked Farmers Weekly. Occasional farming media pundit. Brought up on a Leicestershire farm, now work from a shed in the garden in Oxfordshire. Big fan of Leicester City and Leicester Tigers. Occasional cricketer.