The NPA has welcomed the Government’s support package for the pig industry, but has warned that the situation on many farms remains at critical point.
The Government’s announcement includes temporary visas for 800 butchers to work in UK plants and a private storage aid scheme, alongside a one-month pork levy holiday. The Government said it would also work with industry to introduce processing of animals on Saturdays and longer working days where possible.
However, the NPA stressed that, with the situation on farms getting worse and more pigs being culled to create space, the measures need to be implemented promptly and effectively to bring about real improvement.
The labour issues in processing plants has seen some processors cut back on pig numbers by about 25% per week since August, meaning more and more pigs are backing up on farm, getting bigger, taking up extra space and costing a lot more to feed at a time when feed costs are at record levels.
The NPA estimates that between 120,000 and 150,000 pigs are currently backed up on farms. Sadly, some farms have used up all of their contingency plans and run out of space, leaving them with no option but to cull healthy animals to ease space pressures. The NPA is aware of around 6,600 healthy pigs that have been culled and disposed of, so far.
The situation on farms is highlighted by the rapid rise in average carcase weights. AHDB figures show that, in early October, GB average carcase weights stood at just short of 91kg, 4kg above 2020 levels and more than 4.5kg above the average in early August.
NPA chief executive Zoe Davies said: “We are very relieved that the Government has now listened and acted with the announcement of yesterday’s support package that includes 800 temporary visas for butchers and private storage aid, both of which we have been asking for.
“But this really is just the beginning of the process and we have a long way to go before we can say the crisis is over. The situation on many farms is still critical so we must not stop now.
“From what we have seen so far, we believe that the package of measures – if implemented swiftly – can help to ease the backlog and the sooner the better. We are pleased that the Government now fully understands our concerns and is committed to working with us and the supply chain to ease the situation.
“We will keep a close eye on how the measures are implemented and will also look to ensure the financial burden of clearing the backlog is shared evenly across the supply chain.”
NFU Vice President Tom Bradshaw described the announcement as ‘welcome news for the pork sector’ and said it provides some long-awaited relief for those farmers with pigs backing up on farm.
“Given the severity of these issues, it’s critical that this scheme is up and running as soon as possible to ease this backlog,” he said.
“Labour shortages across the food supply chain remain acute and continued engagement with government is essential to solve these wider issues. The food supply chain remains united in its view that a temporary 12-month Covid Recovery Visa is needed to enable the entire food and drink sector to recruit for essential roles, alongside an urgent announcement on the extension of the Seasonal Workers pilot scheme.
“I would also urge retailers to play their part in supporting the sector at this time by sourcing British pork and I would ask the public to make a conscious effort to look out for British pork when they are doing their shopping to back British farming.”