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Chairman's New Year message: 2020 - Opportunity or not?

1st Jan 2020 / By Richard Lister

NPA chairman Richard Lister sets out his thoughts on the year ahead. Do the opportunities outweigh the threats?  

Lister 6Friday 13th of December. Was it lucky or not? Boris has got the mandate he wanted with a huge majority – brilliant campaign or terrible opposition? Make your own mind up.

So we are now leaving the European Union, but what does that mean with so much still to negotiate?. As we look forward with our crystal ball, there is an equal spread of opportunities and threats.

The opportunity is there to forge favourable trade deals and exploit the markets wishing to buy our farm assured, high welfare British pigmeat products. The threat is posed by potentially lopsided WTO tariffs and a failure of the Government to protect the welfare standards of the UK by the appropriate measures.

The recognition of our standards of production will be paramount to any future trade deals. A great deal has to be decided and it is so important that the Government doesn’t repeat the abject failures that it has been guilty of over the years.

Disappointing market

2019 has been a year of disappointment for pig producers. We could only look on with disappointment  and disbelief  at the high prices that our European neighbours have enjoyed throughout the year. Our inability to exploit the Chinese market was undoubtedly a weakness in the early part of the year, alongside the failure of retailers to support UK pig producers when faced with very high feed prices of 2018/9.

UK Retailers continue to control inflation on behalf of the government with their reluctance to support their suppliers whilst in a 'lowest prices' war. Without doubt, this has been one of the most frustrating years of trading in living memory. Re-investment is critical to the long-term sustainability of the UK pig industry, which requires a fair price to ensure profitability.

Whilst the misfortune of the Chinese pig industry being ravaged by African swine fever has been the salvation of the European pig price, there is without doubt a huge worry posed by its presence on the German border.

The UK Government, in spite of repeated lobbying by the NPA, has not demonstrated any real and meaningful efforts at protecting our borders or informing people entering the UK, bar a minor  PR event. This is a truly appalling effort by Government and hugely worrying for pig producers.

Activism reaction

On farm activism has continued to be an issue through 2019, although it was uplifting to see the law protecting producers with the arrest of two activists. The attempts to persecute pig farmers is not only being taken by AR activists – the BBC seems to be taking a very one-sided stance on climate change and denigrating meat production without any context or balance.

As we move forward we must be prepared to defend and advocate the values of meat eating as part of a balanced diet.

I was hugely honoured to receive the David Black Award at the National Pig Awards in November, in recognition for leadership in our antibiotic reduction programme. It was a reward for all those people who have taken the challenge of reducing antibiotic useage and delivered on a voluntary basis. It is a perfect demonstration of what our industry is capable of.

Estimates of between three and five years for the recovery of the Chinese pig industry would suggest good times ahead for the pig industry, but experience would suggest there are a good many threats  to that optimism.

In spite of all our many challenges, I remain convinced we are on the cusp of good times ahead and I am buoyed by the very many excellent people representing our industry. Indeed, it is most encouraging to see the enthusiasm and commitment of the next generation in the form of the YNPA.

Wishing you all a happy, healthy and prosperous 2020.