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A challenging start to 2021 - but we have an opportunity to grow our production base if we work together

29th Dec 2020 / By Hugh Crabtree

Hugh Crabtree NPA electionsIn his New Year message, NPA allied industry chair, Farmex's Hugh Crabtree, highlights the challenges facing the industry at the start of 2021, and urges members to make sure they use their votes in the NPA elections.

As we prepare to wave goodbye to 2020, still under some of the most severe regulations restricting our freedoms we’ve seen since war time, what are the prospects for 2021?

I am sure we’d all be delighted to wish good riddance to 2020 but regrettably the second wave of the pandemic is well and truly upon us and threatens to easily exceed the original contagion. Interestingly, the second and subsequent waves of infection of the great Spanish Flu pandemic following WW1 were more severe in terms of mortality than the original appearance of the disease.

Not a happy thought for the festive season but I make no apologies; the control of the spread of the disease is in the hands of every individual. The regulators can only do so much. We see examples of this in our normal working lives – we have standards we have all agreed to but there are those who think they don’t apply to them or that they’re not important enough to worry about. We’ve also all seen the result of activists exposing these examples.

However much we comment about perceptions, ignorance of the facts and lack of understanding about scale food production; the few who disregard the regulation and advice endanger the whole sector.

And so it is with covid-19, we really must all play our part in controlling this disease until such time as the available vaccinations have penetrated throughout the population. It’s all familiar territory isn’t it?

Those involved in food production – as the pig industry is – have just been getting on with the job in hand. Good job, too, as lockdown or no, we all need to eat and it turns out pork has been a popular choice during these strange times representing great value and flexibility as it does. However, not even climbing demand can help when processors are unable to run their lines due to covid cases amongst their staff.

The sector is facing a particular challenge in early 2021 in dealing with backed up finished pigs on farm. These things have a habit of rushing up on us and there’s a real risk of this happening if only a few more plants are affected by the pandemic.

I am sure the sector will deal with this through careful leadership from the NPA and the production systems that have developed apace during the last decade. We have excellent help from marketing groups but closed lines are closed lines, we must prepare.

The B-word

And all this before I’ve mentioned the 'B' word! How’s that going to be for everyone? I believe for most businesses on the supply side, administrators will just deal with whatever the new red-tape is. Frankly, little else to be done.

In the case of my business, we’ve been trading with the USA for over 20 years on WTO terms. That holds no fear for us as we’re well used to the process which is straightforward to be fair. New arrangements for our business in Northern Ireland I suspect will be somewhat more clunky – at least to begin with while new processes get bedded in. We’re stuck with this regardless of any deal that might be done with the EU.

For farmers however, a different kettle of fish. A no-deal result and the impact of tariffs on our food supply and produce export would have been very significant, particularly for our cull sow market. That has been avoided, but hold-ups in supply chains are still inevitable. 

The theory is that government is thinking about this and coming up with a plan – lord knows they’ve been told often enough and loud enough about it by the NPA and NFU singing lustily from the same hymn sheet. Without structured support as we pass into the brave new world (deal or no deal), there will be trouble ahead.

NPA Elections 

So far so gloomy - is there nothing positive to be said as we approach 2021? Yes, we have a tried and tested new policy body in the NPA. The Pig Industry Group is the result of bringing together the former Producer and Allied Industry Groups.

This was done in the interest of cost efficiency and improved communications between industry stakeholders and it’s worked out very well in 2020. Now it’s election season and it looks like an excellent field of candidates will be standing (and there is still time to get your nomination in!). The UK pig industry has a great track record when it comes to its representative body.

First class, committed, hard-working and professional staff and a strong mix of volunteers from right across the sector. So, the New Year will bring a newly elected PIG, revitalised board of directors and association chair. All you have to do is exercise your vote fully!

For more about the NPA elections, including how to nominate, who is standing so far and the timetable, CLICK HERE

If we can stimulate demand amongst our home market consumers – all 65 million of them – might we actually have the opportunity to begin to grow our production base? We’re not self-sufficient in pork products anymore so there is a clear and accessible opportunity right on our doorstep. All we have to do is work together to grasp it!

I hope you had A Very Merry (little) Christmas – and a Peaceful, Covid-free and Prosperous New Year to one and all.