Producers set out ‘desperate and unrelenting’ situation on farms ahead of pig industry crisis summit

Pig producers and a prominent vet have laid bare the huge logistical, animal welfare and emotional strains of the worsening pig industry crisis ahead of crucial summit at Defra’s London headquarters today.

They painted a picture on the NPA website of a deteriorating situation that producers have already been suffering for six months, with little immediate prospect of any improvement unless something is done urgently. While the backlog on its own constitutes a crisis, the fact that it is occurring at a time when feed prices are at record highs and the pig price is falling has pushed many producers to and beyond the edge,

NPA PG Tom AllenOxfordshire producer Tom Allen explained how his business has got pigs backlogged on all its sites with weights at the highest they have ever had by about 10 kgs, if not more in places.

“We are having to move pigs from A to B to C to D etc just to juggle the space constantly – it is totally unmanageable. Our contingency plans ran out months ago,” he said. “My staff morale is absolutely in the gutter – they are really struggling with the logistics of it all and the welfare issues of having too many pigs on site.

“I’m getting penalised for overweight pigs, which are costing me a ridiculous amount of money to feed. The feed prices are destroying me.”

“We have had to reduce our business considerably because we just can’t afford to reinvest in it, a business that has taken us several generations to build. It is totally heartbreaking and I have never seen anything like this in the last 20 years I have been involved. This is a disaster for the pig industry, and we desperately need to get something positive out of this summit.”

richard lister ITVRichard Lister, who has pig farms in Yorkshire and Nottinghamshire, described the situation as ‘just relentless’. “It is never ending. We still go from one week to the next not knowing what’s happening, not knowing whether we are going to have enough space, or what we are going to do,” he said.

“There seems no end to it at the moment – and that is creating a lot of pressure, both financially and stress wise, on me, the family and the staff.”

He said the requirement to feed pigs for an extra two to three weeks within our businesses ‘has probably cost us in the region of £420,000′, with another ‘130,000-plus’ of losses on top of that as a result of lower pig prices due to overweight pigs.

He set out what the Government could do, including making Private Storage Aid more attractive, easing some of the requirements on butchers coming into the country and setting up a Covid recovery fund, as has been the case in other parts of the UK and EU. He also urged processors and retailers need to ‘show more urgency and take ownership of this problem’.

Jack BosworthEssex pig farmer Jack Bosworth said the situation has got significantly worse since Christmas. “We have utilised our emergency accommodation that we set up last year as part of our contingency plan – we’ve had to use it time and time again. What we need is just to get pigs off farm and to get a fair price for them,” he said.

“We have got pressure on the stocking rate, we have got pressure on the staff – and you try and budget for the year as best you can and then you start having an extra few hundred pigs on farm and you are buying in even more grain and one thing leads to another. This is what is happening with everyone and it is just spiralling out of control.”

“We are struggling to even tread water, and so many people are having to extend their overdraft or borrow more money. We are all just trying to survive.”

Duncan Berkshire, Save British BaconYorkshire-based pig vey Duncan Berkshire, reiterated the view that the situation on farms is getting worse. “Although there are more pigs moving off farm, the amount of juggling that people have had to do already is now catching up with everyone,” he said. .

“The pigs I have seen in the last 10 days have been the biggest and the tightest in terms of space that I’ve seen through the entire time. I don’t think I’ve been to a single farm that has been unaffected this quarter. Every single farm I’ve been to, there has been some issue or some challenge going on because of pig flow problems.”

“This has meant, sadly, that we have been forced to cull healthy pigs, or take pigs out of the system, whether that be through sending in-pig sows for cull or aborting the sow – I just still can’t fathom in my brain how we are so many months on and yet still challenged with the same problem upstream, but only having to deal with it on farms. It beggars belief.”

Vicky, left and sister Kate at the Manchester Save GB Bacon demonstration

Vicky, left and sister Kate at the Manchester Save GB Bacon demonstration

Vicky Morgan, along with other members of her Yorkshire pig farming family, is one of the main organisers behind the Save GB Bacon campaign, which has arranged a gathering today at Defra’s York headquarters today to support producers represented at the London summit, and to raise the media profile of what is currently happening on farms.

“The situation is just awful. It is really, really serious – I don’t think it could get much worse,” Vicky said. “The backlog is horrendous, with huge animal welfare and health problems, financially it’s a disaster, and it is not getting any better.

“These are issues mainly caused elsewhere in the supply chain and pig producers right across the country want people to step up and help – and share some of this burden.

“We are on a knife edge. Last week, we thought we were going to have to kill 700 pigs, but thankfully we managed to get some pigs away and we didn’t have to. But we are so tight, it’s unbelievable. There is no break in the system whatsoever.

“In terms of our future in the industry, we have done nothing but soul search – you lose faith in things, that’s trouble. You lose faith in everything that you trusted and relied on.”

You can read the full article on the NPA website HERE

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About The Author

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.