From deep in the brown and smelly - what now for UK pigs?
29th Dec 2021 / By Hugh Crabtree
NPA vice-chairman Hugh Crabtree sets out his thoughts on where the pig industry goes next after its annus horribilis.
If there was ever an annus horribilis for the British Pig Industry, 2021 has definitely qualified!
Backed up pigs, high feed prices, falling SPP, labour shortages, export blockages and a free for all on food imports.
Very few of the lifers in this sector can remember anything as bad as we are experiencing right now. We have begun to see an exit taking place – certainly 25,000 sows so far; and we have even witnessed the on-farm culling of pigs – absolutely appalling for all concerned and a complete and utter waste of good food.
And if that wasn’t enough, the ongoing challenges of meeting new standards on quality assurance, animal health, the environment and welfare are piled high on the immediate woes of dealing with pigs that can’t be got off farm.
It’s the same old, same old: whenever there’s a problem in the supply chain, guess who picks up the tab? That’s right, the prime producer. The current situation couldn’t be a more stark example.
Pig farmers don’t employ butchers but it’s the lack of butchers apparently that is at the centre of the current crisis. In other words, pig farmers are paying the price for poor business management beyond the farm gate.
The impact of Brexit and the pandemic was plain to see but rather than plan to secure local food production, all parties from government to processors failed to make sure that home fires were kept burning. If you thought Brexit was about taking back control you thought wrong – it’s bloody chaos out there!
Where are the riots?
Why are there not riots, protests, barricades or just plain old jumping up and down in anger and frustration? It seems we have all become so risk averse that no one wants to upset any available apple cart that might just be the vehicle to shift some pigs.
All I can say is that it weren’t like this 20 years ago lad! Happily, there are some very notable exceptions and if it wasn’t for the professional graft of the NPA and the inspirational actions of the Morgans I seriously wonder if even the mildest grunt would be heard from our sector at all.
What’s to do as we contemplate another wrecked Christmas and a pretty bleak 2022?
Well I’ll tell you what’s to do: hang on in there; weekly register your dissatisfaction with the price being paid for you pigs; take part in and spread the word about the #biteintobritish campaign; write to Neil Parish and write to him again about your circumstances; support the NPA and campaigning being undertaken in their name; and for God’s sake, talk to someone if it’s really getting you down.
Here's the supreme irony of our situation: all those consumers out there still need to eat wholesome nutritious food and that’s the business we’re in. Furthermore, our particular protein source has a great story to tell from the point of view of value, environmental impact and animal welfare. We’re doing a great job of reducing our use of antibiotics as well.
What’s not to like? However, we need to fix the supply chain once and for all in 2022.
We really must come up trading arrangements that share the market risk and reward innovation and performance. Word is such arrangements are being developed. We must get pork into more ready meals and onto more menus. We must come up with more UK produced ways of eating pork – nuggets, pub bites, marinated portion cuts, breaded pork to fry, burgers, bbq bakes….in this regard we really can take a lesson from Chicken George.
On farm, we simply have to embrace new technologies and seriously invest in making our pig farms places that young people would be proud to work on. We’re in the food production business and we need to recognise this, get our units ship-shape and Bristol fashion and be open about what we do. We have nothing to be ashamed of!
The continuing systemisation of UK pig production is inevitable. The trend is very well established with all four principle processors raising their own pigs. There are solid horizontal integrations flourishing as well based on long-established family businesses. All power to their elbows.
Whilst the number of decision makers is declining there is an opportunity to maintain and even grow the UK herd. This is a good place to raise pigs. Furthermore, we’re fortunate in having some seriously high quality young people already involved.
This has got to be a good place to start attracting others into food production and it’s absolutely right to challenge the YNPA to rise to the occasion.
So, it’s bad, it’s never been worse; this time we must make supply chain change. We have it within our grasp to make these changes and the NPA membership is the clear mechanism for securing a sustainable and profitable future.
I commend an Industry Summit to the sector in 2022 and perhaps an annual event along those lines thereafter.