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Pig sector to feel drought impact over coming months

8th Aug 2018 / By Alistair Driver

The pig sector will feel the impact of the current drought on the pig sector most acutely over the coming months, NPA senior policy advisor Georgina Crayford told the recent drought summit.

StrawDefra Secretary Michael Gove and Government officials discussed the impact the drought, which followed a prolonged winter, is having on British food production with industry representatives at last week’s summit.

Representatives from the various sectors gave updates. Georgina told the meeting pig producers have been struggling with excessively high straw prices for many months already due to the wet summer last year impacting straw quality and availability.

“The harsh winter of 2017/18 already resulted in heavy demand for straw stocks, reducing any potential carryover into this coming winter,” she said.

Feed accounts for approximately 60% of the costs of rearing pigs and feed prices have also been high in recent months.

With shortages set to continue, the industry will really feel the impact over the next few months in the form of higher feed and straw prices, she said. "We hope there is more straw being baled this harvest, but we are concerned about quality, given short straw length and the continued competition from straw burning plants."

She added: “Additionally, excessive heat can reduce pig growth rates and cause fertility issues, which is likely to result in reduced production in the coming months. While this may support pig prices by reducing supply, it will impact individual farms in terms of pig flow and cash flow.

“Farmers will certainly be feeling the strain, particularly as they have already been facing significant challenges this year, for example, the increase in disease problems as a result of the harsh winter.”

More hot weather forecast 

The Environment Agency gave an update during the meeting, saying the forecast for the next couple of months is more dry hot weather punctuated by significant wet events like the recent heavy downpour we had.

Groundwater fed rivers are still holding up, because groundwater levels are healthy currently, although receding. But the agency is stepping up regulation of those who abstract water and operating strategic transfers. EA has been working with NFU on ensuring flexibility over abstraction licences.

The NFU called for EA to work with industry to identify where they think groundwater supplies are running out so that producers can forward plan – since disruption to supplied from private bore holes would be disastrous.

Mr Gove highlighted the need to consider a long-term strategy for managing water given that we’re likely to experience more and more extreme weather like this in the future.

Forage Aid, which aims to ensure available forage reaches farmers who need it, highlighted that the challenge this year is that the whole of the UK is affected, whereas previously only one or two regions were affected. Ireland has been subsiding the transportation of straw/fodder around the country and this was discussed as an option during the summit.