Pig farmers face grim battle to stay in business

Thousands of UK pig farmers could be forced out of business by Christmas because of massive increases in overheads, it has been warned.

Farming leaders says that pig farmers representing as much as 10 per cent of the UK’s weekly production could be forced to stop production if they do not see a fair price between now and Christmas because they cannot afford to feed their animals.

If this were to happen, experts predict it would mean that as many as 1.5 million rashers of UK bacon a week would disappear from supermarket shelves, along with 2.3 million sausages, 250,000 fewer pork pies and 30,000 fewer pork chops.

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The National Pig Association (NPA) said poor crop growing weather around the world was making pig feed too expensive for UK farmers, having risen by 25 per cent in recent weeks.

Pig farming is a lynch pins of Yorkshire’s farming industry, particularly in the East Riding area. As much as a quarter of the English pig herd is thought to be on Yorkshire farms.

The NPA is now issuing a rallying cry to both retailers and consumers to make a special effort to support them over the months ahead.

NPA general manager Dr Zoe Davies said: “If supermarkets see a surge in demand for British products, they may be persuaded to pay our farmers the few extra pennies a kilo more they need to cover their soaring feed bills.

“So we are asking shoppers, who have always been incredibly loyal in the past, to please be extra careful to look for the British red tractor logo on bacon, sausages, and pork.”

Richard Longthorpe, a pig farmer from Howden and East Yorkshire and the NPA’s chairman, told the Yorkshire Post that a system similar to the fuel escalator, could be the salvation pork farmers need. He said he planned to meet all the UK’s major retailers in the coming weeks.

“We clearly need more money if we are to keep pace with the increases in feed prices, something that is beyond our control and that of retailers,” he said. “We are going to be meeting with big retail groups to try and talk through potential solutions.”

Mr Longthorpe said that the normal solution to spikes in feed prices was to seek efficiencies on the farm, but that in this particular case that would not be sufficient.

“We are using a very high welfare system in our production,” he said. “We are keeping our pigs outside and on straw yards, meaning our efficiencies systems are always going to be inferior to those on the continent working on intensive systems.

“There is a constant barrage of claims from retailers and from consumers that they want to support British food and to support the high welfare production we have.

“Unfortunately everything comes at a price and if you want high welfare food you need to know how much it costs.”

The NPA acknowledges that empty spaces on supermarket shelves could be filled with imported bacon and sausages but that these would not be produced to British welfare standards.

European pork products will also soon be scarce too as the European Commission expects European pig production to shrink next year.

The NPA is supported by market intelligence from the British Pig Executive, which showed that producers are making a loss on every pig they sell.

Analysts from pig levy representatives Bpex said that farmers are currently paid about 150p per kg but that added that this does not cover pig raising costs – 60 per cent of which are feed.

A senior analyst with the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board said: “We have revisited our calculations for the cost of production and the losses per pig are still significant and unsustainable. Wheat prices have remained at extremely high levels and show no signs of easing substantially in the near future.”