Support available for UK and EU pig farmers, as Defra rejects calls for compensation in England
16th Feb 2022 / By Alistair Driver
One of the NPA’s key asks at last week's pig crisis summit was for the Government to provide financial support for the most badly affected producers in England.
There was no progress on this issue, as Defra continues to reject calls for a financial package to support desperate producers.
Direct support for pig producers, related to the impact of Covid outbreaks in pork plants and the surrender of China export licences, has however, already been provided in Northern Ireland and Scotland, where a second tranche of support was recently made available.
Further afield, a number of other EU countries have announced support packages for their struggling pig producers. These include France, Poland, the Netherlands, Belgium, Lithuania and Estonia, while the Irish Government has indicated it will be providing support for its pig farmers.
Here, is a round-up of some of the support packages being offered elsewhere across the UK and EU.
Eligible pig producers in Scotland can now apply for a share of a further £680,000 of funding under the Pig Producers Hardship Support Scheme. The latest version of the scheme is open for applications until February 20.
It was originally introduced in the summer of 2021, following the temporary closure of the Quality Pig Processors’ (QPP) Brechin plant as a result of Covid, which led to a backlog of pigs waiting for slaughter and the surrender of the abattoir’s China export licence.
A total of £715,000 worth of funding was available to eligible pig producers who supplied Brechin between February 8 and March 31 2021 and suffered a £15 a pig discount on what they would normally have been paid for those animals.
Rural affairs secretary Mairi Gougeon said the extension of the scheme ‘underlines the government’s support for the livestock sector’.
“The Covid-related closure of Brechin abattoir last year and the subsequent loss of the plant’s export licence to China has continued to have a negative impact on pig farmers, during already unprecedented challenging times for the farming industry,” she said.
Producers in Northern Ireland have benefited from two tranches of funding provided as a result of Covid-related export problems last year.
Around £2m was initially paid out to pig producers as part of a larger £23.5m fund paid out by DAERA to affected local farm businesses early in the pandemic.
In July 2021, Northern Ireland Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots announced a further £1.6m covid support scheme for pig producers who were affected by the impact of the pandemic on international pigmeat markets from the spring of last year.
Mr Poots said he was hopeful the funding would support affected pig farmers.
Commenting on whether similar schemes could be introduced in England, a Defra spokesperson said: "The schemes in Scotland and Northern Ireland directly reimbursed pig farmers who had financial penalties imposed on them by processors who had temporarily lost their licence to export to China.
"Such a scheme would not be appropriate in England, where not all processors lost their export licences."
Farming Minister Victoria has also ruled out any compensation for healthy pigs culled as a result of the backlog. “Responsibility for animal welfare on the farm remains with the owner/keeper, who should have contingency plans in place to ensure the welfare of their animals," she said.
EU market support request
In a letter to Agriculture Commissioner Wojciechowski in January, MEPs from 10 countries, including Ireland, Belgium, and France called on the Commission to support the EU’s struggling pig farmers with EU market measures worth nearly €500m.
This was a response to the combination of soaring feed prices extremely low pig prices, driven, by among things Covid disruption and the impact on EU supply of Germany’s ASF outbreak, which have pushed many EU pig producers to the brink.
However, most of the biggest pig producing countries, including as Germany, Spain, Italy, Denmark and the Netherlands have not supported the calls. Denmark argued, for example, that with its low production costs, EU-wide support would place it at a disadvantage.
Mr Wojciechowski said this was a ‘clear signal’ he could not ignore and, to date, they have refused to put any support measures in place.
However, some EU countries have introduced support under the EU’s state aid temporary framework.
France has come up with an agricultural rescue plan of up to €270m, which includes structural aid of a maximum of €175m to supplement compensation for the losses of pig farms.
Under this emergency aid, payments can be made of €15,000 to pig farmers experiencing severe cash-flow problems
The Government has made the funding available, with 30% of French pig producers at risk of losing their business due to Covid-19 and market surplus issues, also associated with ASF.
Poland is providing grant aid funding of €88m to pig farms to ‘effectively address cashflow deficits’ caused by Covid disruption, according to the Polish government. These grants are up to €290,000 per farmer, under the temporary framework for state aid – but there have been calls from across Europe for Brussels to reconsider this cap.
Covid disruption funding to pig farmers has now been extended by the Dutch government. This was originally brought in as a fixed-cost compensation programme under the state aid temporary framework.
Belgium has used a similar route to The Netherlands, bringing in a fixed-cost compensation programme under the state aid temporary framework to get up to €100,000 in emergency grant aid into the accounts of pig farmers coping with income losses.
Lithuania and Estonia
Lithuania and Estonia are also providing funding for pig farmers hit by Covid disruption via the EU state aid temporary framework.
The Republic of Ireland
Irish Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Charlie McConalogue met with more than 100 pig farmers on February 3 to address the ongoing issues crippling the sector.
The Irish Farmers Association (IFA) said Mr McConalogue had committed to providing government support for pig farmers, but details of the package are yet to be confirmed.
A spokesperson for Mr McConalogue said he would continue to work to support pig farmers, to explore what can be done, what is available, and what can work.
NPA chief executive Zoe Davies said: “Governments across the UK and EU have been finding ways to support producers who are really struggling due to factors entirely out of their control.
“We see no reason why Defra could not provide some support to farmers in England who have been severely hit by labour shortages in pork plants and are having to provide increasingly expensive feed to more pigs for longer while receiving less for them, all through no fault of their own. If culling healthy pigs and putting them in the bin isn’t a clear sign of market failure, then I don’t know what is.
“Many pig farmers are standing on the brink – and a show of financial support from our Government could save livelihoods and provide a glimmer of hope for our industry.”