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NPA submits English pig industry COVID support request to Defra

1st Apr 2021 / By Alistair Driver

The NPA has submitted a request to Defra for a £3.2 million COVID support package to recognise the impact of overweight pigs on producers’ businesses.

The request from the NPA, alongside a submission from pork processors, follows the recent announcement of schemes in Scotland and Northern Ireland in March that reflect COVID-related losses suffered by producers.

The UK pig industry has been hit financially on two main fronts by the wave of outbreaks in pork plants.

Higher carcase weights as a result of the backlog of pigs that has built up has led to price deductions being imposed by processors, while the suspension of Chinese exports from key plants, including Cranswick’s Watton, Pilgrim’s Ashton and Quality Pork Limited’s Brechin sites, are costing the industry an estimated £600,000 per week.

The NPA submitted a request on March 22 to Defra for a £3.2m compensation package for producers that reflects deductions for overweight pigs.

NPA chief executive Zoe Davies said Defra has ‘taken a very keen interest’ in the plight of the pig sector in recent months and, while it would be unprecedented for it to award this type of funding, she said these were clearly unprecedented times and was thankful that the Department was giving it serious consideration.

“The entire UK pig sector has been hit by this situation and, given that compensation has been paid to other sectors, such as dairy, we believe we have a very justifiable case,” Zoe told the first meeting of the NPA’s new Pig Industry Group (PIG).

Additionally, the BMPA has highlighted the £15/pig loss to processors from the China export suspension. BMPA chief executive Nick Allen said this was based on the difference between what the Chinese market pays and what can be earned in alternative markets for the pork. With the Watton and Ashton sites typically killing around 40,000 pigs a week, it is costing the industry around £600,000 per week, he said.

Northern Ireland and Scotland support packages

In Northern Ireland, a £4m COVID-19 Support Scheme for eligible pig and poultry producers opened on March 15. The pig element, capped at £2.2m with a maximum payment per recipient of just over £100,000, recognises the impact of the outbreak in late-August at Cranswick’s Ballymena plant and the subsequent eight-week China export ban.

“This financial support will address the effects of the temporary loss of the lucrative Chinese export market, additional penalties on overweight and overfat pigs, and the price impact of alternative pig marketing arrangements,” NI Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots said.

In Scotland, a £715,000 hardship fund was announced a week later, recognising the impact of the temporary closure of QPL’s Brechin plant and loss of Chinese exports. It will cover partial deductions paid on pigs processed through the abattoir from February 8 until the end of March.

Rural Economy Secretary Fergus Ewing said: “The £715,000 will provide funding to pig farmers who have lost out through no fault of their own.”

Regaining China access

Mr Allen said regaining China export access for the affected plants was a priority for the pork sector, but acknowledged it was ‘proving very difficult to get those plants re-listed with China’.

The picture is complicated, however, by rising political tensions between the UK and China over China’s handling of the coronavirus crisis and its treatment of the Uighur population.

You can read more on this story on the Pig World website.