2023 - a year of partial recovery and many policy battles. And look out for more political upheaval in 2024!
29th Dec 2023 / By Lizzie Wilson
NPA chief executive Lizzie Wilson summarises an eventful year for the NPA and looks forward to a year of more political upheaval in 2024.
It’s that time of year again, where I sit down and try to pull together a review of the year just gone. I find it difficult, as there is just so much that happens in the pig sector (and life), it sometimes feels like we’re living and working the dog equivalent of the passing of time – seven years’ worth of events and fluctuations crammed into the period of just one. Or is that just me?!
2023 began with the pig price in a much more positive place and moving in the right direction, but with COP at an unprecedented high, producer members were still losing money.
However, with supply tightening and only forecast to reduce further, the first green shoots of recovery for the pig sector were starting to become apparent and not a moment too soon, having lost a significant proportion of the sow herd.
By this point the application window for the first round of the Slurry Infrastructure Grant was just closing, and we were about to enter discussions for the second round, with a focus on the inclusion of far more for pig producers.
The NPA team devoted a considerable amount of resource to what was thought to be the potentially catastrophic Retained EU Law Bill (remember that?!) in anticipation that some legislation (of the 1,700 pieces within the agricultural remit) could simply be written off, if not actively reviewed and retained by the sunset clause at the end of the year.
However, after a somewhat obvious and arguably simple tweak so that only legislation that was deemed to now be irrelevant was withdrawn, everyone breathed a sigh of relief
Contractual practice review
Onto the spring and the summary of responses received by Defra to their contractual practice in the pig sector consultation was published; a pretty comprehensive distillation of over 300 submissions from primary pig producers, allied industry and the wider supply chain alike.
Defra was delighted with how well the pig sector had engaged and have been true to their word in progressing this integral piece of work at pace (well, as fast as the internal workings of Government/Parliament can manage). After reading their initial draft document that will act as the precursor for more detailed legislation, we feel we’re in a positive position going into 2024.
By the summer, supply impacted by the loss of sows had continued to tighten with the SPP, reaching an unprecedented high of 225p/kg, while, thankfully, wheat prices had dropped in contrast, meaning producers could finally start to dig themselves out of the financial black hole they’d found themselves in from the previous two years. Sadly, a wet summer meant BBQ demand was somewhat subdued.
That sentiment was carried through to the autumn, when we learned ASF had made the huge 400km jump across the Baltic Sea to Sweden.
This made many throughout the supply chain very nervous, not just producers but retailers, also, who started to ask questions about the risk to the UK and security of domestic supply.
The then Defra Secretary Therese Coffey and Minister Spencer made all the right noises about ASF, but we felt there was little depth, otherwise. So, we continued to push, supported by the NFU and other livestock associations worried about concurrent notifiable disease outbreaks and how Defra and APHA would manage the considerable demand on their resources.
In autumn, the battle to get border checks implemented on goods moving from the EU into mainland GB received a further set back when they were delayed for a fifth time. Following this, we further escalated our campaign to raise awareness with Parliamentarians of the ever-increasing threat of ASF without effective border controls in place.
Thankfully, the political landscape has been slightly more settled with only two Defra Secretaries of State to brief. Minister Spencer has remained as the one beacon of continuity throughout; a supportive presence, which has been very welcome.
But what has become increasingly obvious as the year has elapsed is the sharpening focus on the General Election, at some point next year, making it harder and harder to get decisions or just basic information on progress on a variety of contentious areas.
Winter has brought a disappointing albeit understandable drop in pig price, the saving grace being the leisurely speed of the decrease and potentially the more competitive outlook.
Looking ahead to 2024, I feel it’s safe to say we’re in for another tumultuous year, politically, at least, but fingers crossed for a desperately needed period of stability otherwise.
From all on the NPA Board, PIG and staff, we wish our members a very happy New Year.