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Coronavirus - first ever PIG meeting discusses impact on sector

19th Mar 2020 / By Alistair Driver

Coronavirus was the main focus of the NPA’s first ever Pig Industry Group (PIG) meeting, bringing together the association’s Producer and Allied Industry groups.

Coronavirus picProducers and representatives from across the allied industries discussed, via conference call, how the crisis was already affecting the sector, issues that could arise down the line and steps that can be taken to protect the industry’s ability to produce pigs and look after stock.

Staff

The number one issue is staff. Currently, the problems are being caused predominantly by parents having to take time off to look after children absent from school and the advice for families to self-isolate if one member shows symptoms of Covid-19.

The situation is likely to worsen, given current forecasts and the prospect that all schools might have to be closed at some point.

While most farms are facing limited disruption so far, one producer, a large employer in the east, reported that more than 20 of his staff were absent at the start of this week.

Some producers set out the measures they have put in place to limit the risk of virus spread among staff. 

NPA chief executive Zoe Davies said: “If, as likely, staff absences become a bigger issue on pig farms, we could see producers struggling to look after the pigs. This could be compounded if processor capacity is compromised.

“We have raised this is as a concern with Defra and they have said they will look at what support could be provided.

“We also want farms to consider what they can be doing now to reduce the risk of staff becoming infected and to cope with absences, such as varying work patterns, having people come in at different times of the day to help with childcare issues, night shifts and any opportunities for sharing staff between companies.”

The NPA is working closely with other industry bodies, including the NFU, to look at what could be done to alleviate staff shortages.

We will soon be posting more information and guidance for members on all aspects of the crisis in the Members' Area. 

Feed concerns

Another producer said her biggest concern was not necessarily staff shortages on farm – she believed she will be able to make up shortfalls locally – but shortages of feed. “We might be able to get people, but if we can’t feed the pigs, we will be in real trouble,” she said.

She asked feed industry representatives what steps were being put in place to ensure supplies will continue in the face of likely staff shortages.

Feed industry representatives gave an update on steps being taken to ensure feed reaches staff.

Processors

Although there were reports of staff shortages at one major processor, so far there does not appear to have been significant disruption for meat plants, processor representatives told the meeting.

But Meadow Quality’s Simon Davies added: “Processors are very concerned as there are fairly substantial numbers of people within the factories. They are taking all the steps they can, but this could ramp up very quickly.”

In terms of the market impact, strong domestic demand from the retail sector appears to be largely compensating for disruption to exports.

To read about the impact of coronavirus on the European market, click here

Veterinary supplies

Representatives from the pharmaceutical industry confirmed there no current issues around the supply of medicines or feed additives.

However, it was reported that some customers, including vets, producers, mills and pre-mix premises, are ‘holding a higher buffer level of stocks’. 

Inspections

The meeting also discussed the possible impact on farm inspections by vets and assessors. Particularly where people are in the ‘vulnerable’ category, a sensible approach will be required, it was agreed.

NPA has already contacted the assurance schemes to discuss what can be done about this.

Defra feedback

A representative from Defra joined the meeting and promised to take all the concerns raised back to the Department to ensure the industry’s views were fed in ‘up the chain’ as policies and contingencies are developed.

Zoe added: “Meanwhile, we want to hear from members about how the situation is affecting your business, so we can continue to raise issues and discuss solutions at all levels.

"Rest assured, the team is working hard to assess and address the issues raised by the current situation and we will keep members informed with the guidance and information they need.”

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