Pig industry crisis - NPA blog, December 17
17th Dec 2021 / By Alistair Driver
Updates on the latest developments as NPA seeks solutions to crisis hitting pig sector.
December 17, 2021
Pork excluded from UK-Aus trade deal
The UK-Australia trade deal opening up trade on a range of agricultural and other products does not cover pork, poultry and eggs.
The Government said the Free Trade Agreement would unlock £10 billion in extra trade, although NFU president Minette Batters said there was nothing in it for farmers.
You can read more HERE
Accommodation sought for new butchers
The latest post on the forum is a plea for help in finding accommodation for much-needed new butchers in Bristol.
You can read the message HERE
Home Officer Minister asked to clarify processor butcher claims
Neil Parish, chair of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) Committee has written to Home Office Minister Kevin Foster seeking clarification on his claims that only one of the major four pork processors holds the necessary licence to bring in foreign butchers.
Mr Foster told the Committee on Tuesday that only one of the UK’s major four pork processors held the necessary license to allow them to sponsor visa applicants under the skilled worker route.
However, 'leading voices in the industry' have since written to the Committee challenging the Minister’s evidence and stating that all four processors were indeed sponsors, prompting Mr Parish to seek clarification from the Minister.
Full story HERE
December 16, 2021
Defra labour survey
Defra has made the decision to run its labour absence survey daily due to the developing situation involving the OMICRON variant. The survey is a useful way of keeping Defra aware of labour issues across the sector.
You can access the survey HERE
SPP down again
The SPP fell by just over a penny last week to 141.81p/kg, putting it nearly 7.5p below last year's level and more than 9p below the five-year average.
While prices continue to fall steadily due to a combination of the ongoing supply chain issues and low EU price, we are no longer seeing the extreme crashes that occurred three times in October. That said, the SPP is now 19p below its recent July high.
The current UK price has to be put in the context of EU prices, however. The EU Reference Price of 109.7p/kg compares, with Germany at 107.6p, the Netherlands 96.6p and Denmark 109p, compares with a UK equivalent of nearly 144p.
In terms of slaughter, estimated throughput, at 186,200 head, was 4% lower than the week before and 6% below this point last year.
The average carcase weight stood at 91.9kg, similar to last week but over 4kg above 2020 levels. These high weights show that producers continue to face difficulties with backlogs of market-ready pigs on farm. Under normal circumstances we would typically see weights fall at this time of year, with producers finishing their pigs early ahead of the Christmas season, AHDB said.
However, according to AHDB, UK clean pig slaughter during November, at 980,800 head, was 8% on November 2020 levels, or 3% like-for-like when the extra working day is taken into account.
This is partly due to the fact that November slaughter last year was also depressed due to staffing challenges at abattoirs.
The situation this November varied massively across the UK. The increase was driven by a noticeable 12% rise in English throughput while in Northern Ireland numbers were up by just 1%. Scottish slaughter remains depressed compared to last year, down by a third at 22,000 head, according to AHDB senior analyst Bethan Wilkins.
Clean pig slaughter for the first eleven months of this year totalled 10.3 million head, 3.5% more than the corresponding period in 2020.
December 15, 2021
Thousands of East Yorkshire pigs culled due to butcher shortage - BBC report
The BBC is reporting that almost 10,000 pigs in East Yorkshire have been culled and burnt due to a lack of workers to process the animals, according to Yorkshire vet Duncan Berkshire.
He said many pigs were left stuck on farms rather than being sent to abattoirs, despite government attempts to recruit extra butchers.
The report quotes Yorkshire producer Kate Morgan, who said a lot of pig breeders had gone out of business.
"It's been emotionally a challenging year, financially it's crippling," she said. "We're very grateful for the government stepping in and delivering a package for us, however that has not solved the problems on farms at all."
You can read the full story HERE
Welfare cull reaches 30,000 pigs
There is is no real sign if any respite in the dire situation on farms. The backlog remains and, in some cases, with contingency plans exhausted weeks ago, producers have run out of options.
The NPA is now aware of 30,000 pigs that have been culled on farm and will not enter the food chain. The harch reality is that this is likely to be an understatement, as these are only the cases that have been reported to the NPA.
Primary producers are bearing the full brunt of a crisis that has it roots in another part of the supply. That is why they urgently need more support from Government and across the supply chain.
'It's time the pain was felt by all'
This was a point well made by Zoe when she spoke at a high-profile Food Security summit in London on Tuesday, with fellow speakers including NFU president Minette Batters and Defra Secretary George Eustice.
Zoe told the summit that the pork supply chain is 'broken', with primary producers bearing the brunt of the current crisis.
"It's time the pain was felt by all, and all actors within the supply chain take some responsibility or there will be no independent pig farmers left in this country. Already only 40% of the pork eaten in the UK is produced here – let’s not erode that any further," Zoe said.
You can read more HERE
December 14, 2021
"We are seeing our industry slowly being destroyed" - Parish demands action on labour crisis from Home Office Minister
Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee chairman Neil Parish was on top form as he demanded answers on the labour shortages from Home Office Minister Kevin Foster, as part of EFRA investigation into labour shortages.
In a sometimes heated session, Mr Parish repeatedly called on Mr Foster to explain why the Home Office had not acted on advice from its Migration Advisory Committee to add butchers to the shortage occupation list.
"I just cannot accept it, we are seeing our industry slowly being destroyed," Mr Parish said. "I thought Brexit was about encouraging production in this country, not discouraging it. This is down to labour shortages. All I want you to say is that you are looking at these things and that you will take action quickly in the future."
Afterwards, Mr Parish said: ”Labour shortages in the food and farming sector have caused a human and animal welfare crisis. But the Home Office is simply not listening. It is not supplying enough visas for foreign workers in a timely, efficient manner.
"Employers need workers and cannot get them in time. Pigs are being culled and wasted because there are not enough butchers in the abattoirs. Fruit is rotting on trees and crops are not being planted.
"There appears to be a disconnect between this reality and what Mr Foster says. Again and again during our evidence session he said visa systems were in place to resolve the labour shortages. The food and farming sector tells us this is not the case.
"We need the Home Office to respond to what farmers and businesses are saying and to stop blaming the sector for being at fault. We need an effective cross-Government food and farming labour strategy that deals with immigration and other issues - and we need it fast."
You can view the entire session HERE
And you can read more in Pig World HERE
Organanisations call for action to address supply chain crisis
Zoe spoke at a major food and farming summit today, which saw a coalition of organisations urged the Government to take ‘urgent and meaningful action’ to fix the structural issues facing the industry.
Zoe said: “The UK pig sector is still in meltdown as worker shortages continue to impact our ability to process the number of pigs we already have on farms.
“The entire food supply chain and government must pull together and resolve the backlog now or we will have no independent pig producers left."
NFU president Minette Batters accused the Government of ‘papering over the cracks’ and called for more long-term commitment to backing the food industry.
December 13, 2021
Neil Parish, chair of the influential Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, has promised to put pressure on Defra Ministers to do more to support pig producers directly during the current crisis.
He has also pledged to investigate questions around fairness in the supply chain in the New Year.
The MP was the guest speaker at the Young NPA National event in London, last Tuesday, and he heard a series of first-hand accounts from producers suffering in the midst of the worst industry crisis in more than two decades. The Devon MP was told how the well-intentioned Government industry support package was benefiting processors but was not helping stricken producers.
You can read more HERE
December 9, 2021
Cull and render scheme plans dropped
Plans an on-farm cull and render service as a backstop to help producers reduce the backlog of pigs on-farm have been dropped.
Legal restrictions and requirements around two separate elements of a licensed meat business and those of a knackery operating in the same building have put paid to the scheme.
Full story HERE
'Perhaps we should invite them all to an illegal party with pork on the menu. I'm sure they will all come.'
The latest forum post looks at the role of imports in the industry's supply chain issues, and questions the Government's commitment to solving the issues.
You can read it and have your say HERE
SPP dips again
The SPP continued its downward trajectory last week, albeit at a more stable pace than some of the huge swings seen in recent weeks.
The price index fell by 0.72p, to reach 142.84p/kg, putting it 8.2p below last year and 8.6p below the five-year average. The price continues to come under pressure from the domestic supply chain issues and low EU prices - the EU reference price currently stands at 108.4p, more than 36p below the UK equivalent.
And, of course, the falling pig prices are coinciding with record - and rising - feed costs. This has been damaging profitability all year - with average losses of around £25/head, and cumulative losses estimated at £130m over the first six months of the year, and the situation seemingly worsening in the second half.
To put it in context, it is often said that a sustainable financial position for pig producers is achieved when the pig price per kg equals the price of wheat per tonne. Currently, a pig price heading towards 140p/kg stands next to a wheat price in the region of £220-£230/tonne.
There are no clear indications that the backlog is essing. Estimated slaughter last week was 193,800 head, nearly 8,000 up on last week’s figure, but 3,700 head lower than the equivalent week last year. Reports suggest there was a further increase in the number of abattoirs undertaking a Saturday kill, with Christmas throughputs now well under way, AHDB said.
The average carcase weight fell slightly compared to the previous week, to 91.88kg, 3.6kg up on a year ago and nearly 6kg higher than summer levels.
There was insufficient data available to produce a 7kg or 30kg weaner price this week, although the weaner market is clearly struggling, remaining badly disrupted by the backlog in the slaughter market, with many units now overstocked, according to TVC.
December 8, 2021
Yesterday, around 50 Young NPA members and guests attended the annual YNPA national event in London.
As always it was an informative and interesting event, at which guest speaker Neil Parish chair of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee pledged to ask more questions of Defra and the supply chain about what they could - and shouldn't - be doing to support the pig sector during its time of crisis. He gaimed some clear insight from those in attendance about what exactly is happening of the pig sector and why more is expected and needed from Defra Ministers, processors and retailers (more on this soon).
The meeting also heard from Vicky Morgan and Anna Longthorp, two of the driving forces behind the #BiteIntoBritish social media compaign, which is trying to encourage the public to back food produced on all British farms due to its quality, taste, carbon footprint, welfare standards and more.
While the campaign, launched initially to spread the positive message about British food during the COP26 summit, has been a success, reaching huge numbers of people across the social media platforms, they want more people from the pig industry to take part.
That could be in form of pictures, videos or anything else to spread positive messages about British food.
To try and get things rolling again, all the guests took part in a #BiteIntoBritish video, starring delicious sausage rolls from Anna's Happy Trotters.
December 6, 2021
"Well, I'm not sure what more they want to us to do"
Defra Secretary George Eustice thinks the Government has done everything it can to support the British pig industry.
It is up to the industry to make the support package work, he told told the BBC Farming Today programme. "We have done everything they asked us, and they can't really now come back and say it's not working," he said.
Well, it isn't working and the industry can say that. Zoe made that perfectly clear in her response. “We won't have a pig industry by early next summer. I'm sorry, people cannot wait that long," she said, in response to Mr Eustice's expectation that things might be back in balance by the summer.
You can read the full sets of quotes HERE
The point that Mr Eustice appears to be missing is that the intention of the support package was to increase throughput in pork plants in order to help ease the backlog and avert a mass cull of pigs on farm, which is now, sadly, underway.
Producers have little control over how the processors are implementing the support package, which at the moment is not working, meaning the backlog is getting worse. That is why the NPA is calling for further intervention from Government.
Mr Eustice said he was unaware of what more the Government could do. In fact, the NPA has made two requests:
- It wants proper oversight of the implementation of the support package, so that it delivers on its stated aim of reducing the pig backlog, rather than simply helping processors.
- It has also asked the Defra Secretary to convene a roundtable bringing together all parts of the supply chain to discuss the worsening crisis.
You can read more HERE
December 3, 2021
Prentis - Government will 'monitor evolving situation'
Farming Minister Victoria Prentis promised the Government will 'monitor' the evolving situation', after she was questioned about the pig industry crisis.
The Government's support is not working, with only a handful of butchers having arrived so far, and little tangible progress in reducing the pig backlog. For many farmers the situation is getting worse and more and more pigs are being culled on farm.
The NPA has asked Defra Secretary George Eustice to carry out proper oversight of the support package and to convene a roundtable involving all interested parties in the supply to try and find solutions.
DUP MP Jim Shannon asked Mr Eustice in the Commons 'what steps he is taking to prevent a mass cull of pigs in the UK'.
Responding Mr Prentis said: "We have been working closely with industry throughout this period to understand how best to support it in response to the challenges caused by the pandemic, including the loss of the Chinese market to several processing plants, disruption to CO2 supplies, and a temporary shortage of labour, specifically skilled butchers in the processing sector.
"In response to these challenges, we recognise that in recent months a significant number of pigs have had to be kept on farm."
She highlighted the elements of the Government's package of support, announced in mid-October, including the approval of up to 800 visas for pork butchers, a Private Storage Aid scheme, and a Slaughter Incentive Payment Scheme and working with AHDB to identify new export markets for pork, particularly lightly-processed pork.
She also pointed to the suspension of the pork levy during November in England and Scotland, which will save the sector just under £1 million.
"The Government will continue to monitor the evolving situation and work closely with the industry through this challenging period," she said.
Media interest growing again
As the pig industry crisis shows no sign of easing, the media interest is picking up again.
After the recent Sky News and Countryfile file features (see below, Nov 27 and 29), the coverage has continued.
The BBC Panorama programme on Wednesday night featured the Morgan sisters (from 19 minutes) as part its investigation into supply chain issues in the run-up to Christmas.
A Financial Times article this week quoted NPA chief executive Zoe Davies, who estimated that the financial loss for pig farmers, due to the crisis, totalled around £130 million for the first half of 2021 alone, while many farmers are now either leaving the industry or having to drastically change business models.
The latter includes Essex producer Chris Leamon, who has for a long time, with his brother, Rob, bred pigs on an Essex farm set up by his parents nearly 70 years ago. They are now moving to a ‘bed and breakfast model’.
Zoe said: “There is general acceptance that there is going to be a restructuring of the industry as a result of [the crisis].”
Politics home has reported that - Gammon Shortage Likely With Just 'Tens' Of Butchers Due To Arrive In Early December.
Nick Allen of the British Meat Processors' Association (BMPA) said disruption caused by labour shortages was forcing the pork industry to prioritise less time-intensive products, meaning there would be reduced choice of festive items on supermarket shelves in the coming weeks.
“The products that require more butchery – the Christmas treats like gammon and pigs-in-blankets – are being sacrificed in order to get more things on supermarket shelves," he said.
SPP steadies but situation deteriorating on farms
The SPP appears to be steadying after a volatile period. Last week it was down by 0.75p on last week to 143.56p/kg, following a marginal increase the previous week.
Prior to that, we had seen some massive dips, linked to extra kills of low-priced pigs, followed by partial recovery.
It is now 8.5p down on a year ago and 8p below the five-year average.
"Reports indicate that although some abattoirs undertook a Saturday kill, numbers of particularly low-priced pigs (intended for minimal butchery) were once again limited," AHDB said.
Beyond the current supply chain issues, the UK pig price remains under massive pressure from low EU prices. The latest EU Reference Price, at 108.6p/kg, is more than 37p below the UK equivalent.
Estimated slaughter last week, 185,900 head, was lower than the previous week's figure of 196,200, but 15,500 head higher than the same week last year, and 3,600 above the five-year average.
Following a dip last week, the average carcase weight rose by 110g to 91.95kg, nearly 4kg up on the year and 6kg above summer levels.
While the estimated slaughter figures are encouraging, the reality appears to be that little progress is being made in easing the backlog.
The Government's support package has not yet, at least, made a difference. Very few butchers have come in, with not much movement expected there until January, while there has been very little interest in the private storage aid scheme.
Processors remain short of butchers and are unable to come to close to meeting the supply of pigs available on farms, meaning farmers continue to have to keep pigs on farm for much longer than would usually be the case.
For many, this is proving impossible to maintain - the NPA has heard of 16,000 pigs being culled on various farms, but this is likely to be gross under-estimate, once unreported cases are factored in. In an NPA member survey, more than one in 10 of people who responded said they had culled pigs on-farm.
Compounding the problem, as producers feed more pigs for longer, is the crippling feed cost, which continues to increase from already-record levels, with wheat currently trading at around £230/tonne.
The NPA contines to call on Defra to carry out proper oversight of its support package to ensure it delivers on its aim of reducing the backlog on farms, rather than just helping processors out of their problems.
The NPA has also asked Defra Secretary George Eustice to convene an industry roundtable, bringing the supply chain together to discuss the current situation and seek solutions.
November 29, 2021
NPA is undertaking a survey for producer members in order to collate data so that we provide evidence on the current industry state of play to Defra.
It should take you no longer than 5 minutes to complete and we would be very grateful if you could do it before Thursday.
You can access the survey in the Member's Area.
Pressure building on Government again
With the Government support package failing to deliver any tangible benefits for the pig sector (see below) - so far, at least - the pressure is again building on Defra to do more to support the industry.
Responding on Twitter to a report by Sky News on the worsening situation, Shadow Defra Secretary Luke Pollard said: "Pig farmers have been laughed at by the PM.
"They’ve been ignored and sidelined by Defra. The combination of a botched Brexit deal, the pandemic and an incompetent government has led us to the biggest cull of healthy pigs in our history. Ministers need to get a grip, not ignore it."
Countryfile focuses on industry crisis
After Sky News' coverage over the weekend, BBC's Countryfile ran a prime-time feature on the pig industry's worsening crisis, featuring various well-known industry figures.
You can view it HERE
Outlook still bleak
The harsh reality is that the situation on farm is getting worse. The backlog is not noticeably easing and, with processing days set to be lost over Christmas, it is likely to be into the New Year before we see any real improvement.
The benefits of the Government’s support package have not, yet at least, been seen, with butchers yet to arrive in any significant numbers and processors not taking up the private storage aid option. There might be some movement in both cases in January – but that will be too late for many.
The NPA is aware of 16,000 pigs having been culled on farm, but that is just those reported - the true number is likely to be much higher.
As the feed price continues to rise and the pig price falls, the already dire financial situation is worsening, too.
It is a question simply of survival for many and the industry desperately needs the full support of the supply chain and Government.
November 27, 2021
Soul-destroying decision to abort pigs as backlog worsens for many
Sky News is reporting that vets and farmers have made the 'soul-destroying' move of carrying out abortion procedures on pigs because they have 'run out of alternatives'.
Sky spoke to Yorkshire vet Duncan Berkshire, who said:
"It's now a common conversation that I'm having on a daily basis. It's soul-destroying, absolutely soul-destroying," he said.
Sky also revealed some of the findings of the NPA's survey data, which suggests that 11% of farmers have already culled healthy pigs, with a further 10% saying they will need to do so within the next two weeks. While the NPA has officially been notified of 16,000 such kills, the figure is likely to be a gross underestimate, it reports.
You can view the feature HERE
Unfortunately, the Government support measures have so far made little difference, with very few butchers having arrived yet and no take up so far of Private Storage Aid, meaning little progress has been made with easing the backlog.
The picture varies - while some farms are coping, for many the situation remains dire and, in some cases, is getting worse.
November 25, 2021
There is still time to register for tonight’s online town hall event taking place at 7pm. Please email before 4.30pm to register your place.
AHDB's latest market update provides some encouragement on various fronts, albeit it is just a single week's snapshot within the longer-term picture.
The SPP steadied last week, following recent heavy falls - at 144.31/kg, it was 0.15p higher on the previous week, although it remains nearly 10p below a year ago and 7.5p short of the five-year average.
And, of course, any discussion on pig price has to factor in the current crippling costs of production that have hit margins all year, and appear to be still heading in the wrong direction. Wheat prices are rising again, currently standing at around £230/tonne.
We often talk about the pig price per kg broadly needing to match the wheat price per tonne for a sustainable position for pig production - the current gap, therefore, is more than alarming.
The slaughter figures were encouraging, echoing comment from the trade that more pigs are starting to move through the system.
AHDB's estimated slaughter for last week, at 196,200 head, was up by 11,000 on the week and 21,000 on last year. Reports indicate that a number of abattoirs undertook a Saturday kill, although there were only 'limited numbers' of particularly low-priced pigs, AHDB said.
After weeks of relentless increases, the average carcase weight fell compared to the previous week, albeit by a modest 240g to 91.84kg. It remains 4kg higher than a year ago and 6kg up on summer levels.
You can also read an interesting longer-term outlook from AHDB on what is happening in the pig sector, regarding the backlog, supply and demand, and more HERE
November 24, 2021
Town Hall meeting on Thursday
A reminder that the NPA will be holding a virtual Town Hall meeting for members on Thursday at 7pm to discuss the current industry situation. To register your attendance please email email@example.com ahead of the meeting.
NPA has launched a survey for producer members in order to collate data so that we can evidence the current industry state of play to Defra. It should take you no longer than 5 minutes to complete and we would be very grateful if you could do it before Thursday.
You can access the survey in the Members' Area.
November 23, 2021
Cranswick has posted significant growth to its revenues and profits during a turbulent six-month period for the pig sector.
In the 26 weeks to September 25, the Hull-based business’s revenues were just short of £1 billion, at £993 million, 6.6% up, while its adjusted group operating profit soared to £69.6m, a 12.3% uplift.
You can read more HERE
November 19, 2021
'It's just a commercial risk'
Neil Parish's EFRA committee have published a clip of Defra George Eustice suggesting the lack of labour in pork plants that is causing pigs to back up on farms is a 'commercial risk'. That is why the Government won't be paying any compensation to pig farmers for pigs that have to be culled on farm, Mr Eustice explained during Tuesday's hearing in front of MPs.
"You would not normally make a payment; that would be seen as a commercial loss. It is just a commercial risk in those sorts of circumstances," Mr Eustice said.
You can view the clip HERE
You can view the entire transcript from the hearing HERE
November 18, 2021
Eustice coming under more pressure to act on pig crisis
Following his difficult appearance in front of the EFRA Committee on Tuesday (see Nov 17 post below), Defra Secretary George Eustice is coming under more pressure to step up to support the pig sector.
Writing on Twitter, Lincolnshire MP Sir Edward Leigh has warned that the backlog appears to be getting worse and has called on Mr Eustice to meet the NPA to discuss the situation.
SPP down again as carcase weights top 92kg
The SPP was down again last week. While the fall of 2.31p to 144.16p/kg is significant, and would have been considered unprecedented only a few months ago, it was, at least, not as severe as some of the crashes seen in recent weeks.
The SPP now stands at nearly 8p below where it was a year ago and 8p below the five-year average.
The latest fall comes as supplies of slaughter-ready pigs continue to exceed available processing capacity, according to AHDB, which said it remains difficult to identify signs that progress has been made reducing the backlog of pigs on farm.
Low EU prices - the latest EU Reference price stood at 110p/kg - are weighing heavily, while AHDB is suggesting that lower prices paid for some batches of pigs destined for markets requiring minimal butchery were less of a factor last week.
"Up to this point, alternating weeks seem to have been more strongly affected, with the SPP recording sharper price declines," the levy body said in its latest market update.
"However, the latest week seems to have deviated from this pattern. The SPP decline this week is smaller, indicating fewer of these pigs coming through. Again, continued low prices in the EU are also playing an important role in driving price declines here, so prices would be expected to fall in any case."
The NPA continues to hold discussions with processors about what can be done to prevent 'distressed kills' continuing to crash the pig price, including buying these loads on a liveweight basis to prevent these prices going into the SPP, which the NPA understands is perfectly legal. The NPA has asked Defra Secretary George Eustice for his support in this.
Estimated slaughter for the week was 185,200 head, 6,400 more than the previous week, and 2,200 head more than the same week a year earlier.
Average carcase weights continue to soar, reflecting the severity of the problems on farm, increasing by a further 320g last week to 92.08kg. Carcase weights are now 4kg above the levels of a year ago and 6kg higher than average summer weights.
November 11, 2021
We have posted an update for Morrisons-Woodheads suppliers in the Members' Area.
You can read it HERE
Partial recovery for SPP, but no sign of backlog easing
As has been the pattern for the past six weeks now, the SPP has staged a partial recovery following the previous week's crash.
The EU-spec SPP increased by 1.8p last week, following the previous week's 3.5p crash. This follows the trend that has seen falls of nearly 5p in the weeks ending Oct 2 and 16, followed by partial recoveries of around 2p the following weeks.
The upshot is that the SPP in the week ending Nov 6 was nearly 9p below where it was in late-September. It now stands at nearly 9 down on a year ago and 5.5p down on the 5-year average.
To see the weekly price graphs, click here
The current volatility, of course, reflects changes in the number of low-priced pigs intended for export with minimal butchery in the sample each week. As the Government support package kicks in during November, with incentives for plants to put on additional kills, this could be come more commonplace.
Discussions are continuing between industry and Government as to what can be done about the impact on these extra culls on the SPP.
Meanwhile, AHDB has put together a Q&A about pig price reporting. It includes definitions, background and other useful info relating to UK reference prices, the SPP, and APP. You can read it HERE
These extra kills are not the only factor weighing down domestic pig prices. EU prices have continued to ease in recent weeks - the EU reference price stood at 110/kg at the end of October, compared with a UK reference price of 146p/kg.
The large price differential between prices here and on the continent continues to drive a general downward trend in the British market, AHDB analyst Bethan Wilkins said.
In the latest week, estimated slaughter was just 166,000 head, 4,600 down on the previous week, 7,600 down on last year and 12,800 below the 5-year average.
While stressing that these estimated figures are subject to change when official Defra figures are released, Ms Wilkins said: "Slaughtering all the market-ready pigs remains a challenge, and our provisional estimates for slaughter in recent weeks suggest that the number being processed is not improving."
Highlighting the impact on farms, carcase weights remain high and averaged 91.76kg during the week ended November 6, more than 4kg higher than a year earlier and 5-6kg up on average weights during the summer.
November 17, 2021
How much more of Rome needs to burn before you put a plan together?
Neil Parish, chairman of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, has accused the Government of doing 'too little, too late' on labour shortages.
Commenting after Defra Secretary George Eustice gave evidence to the EFRA committee on Tuesday as part of its inquiry into labour shortages, Mr Parish called for more action and warned that if the problem is not sorted, we will export our food industry.
“The food and farming sector has been telling government since early this year about labour shortages which have caused supply difficulties," he said.
"Government has done too little, too late on almost every front. It must face up to its responsibilities. It must create a strategy to give farmers and food producers confidence so they can continue to deliver good British food to our plates.
"If this is not sorted, we’ll end up exporting our food industry and importing our food.”
You can watch the session HERE
During the session, Mr Eustice at one point suggested a lack of labour of labour was a 'commercial risk' for food businesses, along the lines of an arable farmers have a crop hit by aphids.
At which point, Mr Parish suggested the latter would be considered an 'act of God or an act of nature', which he suggested was not the case for 'not having having enough processor workers and not being able to slaughter your pigs'. He said labour shortages were out of farmers' control and insisted there was 'no expectation farmers would have to cover that as a commercial loss'.
Mr Parish and members of the committee grew impatient at the lack of clear answers as to how the Government intended to address the situation, as this clip shows.
“How much more of Rome needs to burn before you put some kind of plan together?” Mr Parish asked the Defra Secretary.
November 16, 2021
EFRA interviews Eustice on labour shortages
Defra Secretary George Eustice was interviewed by Neil Parish's Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee today.
There were some tasty exchanges, including on the pig sector crisis.
You can watch the session HERE
Media interest in pig sector building again
The media interest in the pig sector's plight is increasing, after the hiatus in the period following the Government's support package announcement.
In one recent example, Charlie was interviewed by Politics Home. “We are in bit of a holding pattern, unfortunately," he said, adding that the culling of pigs was expected to continue, potentially into next month.
You can read the article HERE
Zoe sets out industry concerns on Farming Today
And here's another... Zoe appeared on Radio 4's Farming Today programme this morning, explaining the industry's concerns over the Government's support package.
She stressed that the situation was not improving on farm, with welfare culling underway, but producers also discussing with vets the option of aborting piglets before they are born.
You listen to the interview HERE (from 8 mins, 40 seconds).
The interview follows on from NPA chairman Rob Mutimer's letter to Defra Secretary George Eustice, urging him to ensure the support package delivers on its aim to reduce the backlog on pig farms.
Zoe explained how, with processors now saying they will not be using it until the New Year, the Private Storage Aid scheme 'should have been thought through better'.
"Government designed the scheme to get pigs off farms, not to help out the processors. But processors wouldn't use the scheme if they had to take on too much risk as they saw it, in terms of putting product into storage with bone-in that they couldn't market it when it had to come out," she said.
Zoe said producers were still in limbo, with the situation on farms 'getting worse' and the welfare cull now happening, which she stressed was 'exactly what we didn't want to happen'.
"The pig backlog is still as significant as it was - the processors are still not taking contracted numbers, which means there are bigger and bigger pigs. Initially, some producers were forced to start killing piglets, which is an awful thing for people to have to do.
"Some people have now started having discussions with their vets about having to abort piglets from sows. I am disgusted that this is even having to be discussed."
She called for 'proper oversight' of the Government's measures to ensure they work as originally intended in terms of getting pigs off farms as soon as possible.
In case you missed them, here are some recent updates on the site:
- NPA urges Defra Secretary to ensure support package doesn't further damage producers
- Private Storage Aid and Slaughter Incentive Payment schemes open - Defra guidance
- Members' Area - Defra updates WATOK advice
- Pig producers suffered further big losses during Q3, despite higher prices
- Continental producers going from boom to bust — but Brussels resists market intervention
November 12, 2021
Defra slaughter stats highlight lack of progress on pig backlog
Defra's monthly slaughtering stats are out, showing UK clean pig slaughterings in October were 2.9% down year-on-year at 951,000 head.
The October 2021 figure was 28,000 head down on the October 2021 figure. It was up on the September figure of 918,000, although this can largely be accounted for by the extra day in the month.
A clearer like-for-like comparison is the average weekly slaughter figures. They showed an average of 215,000 weekly clean pig slaughterings in October, up fractionally from 214,000 in September, but well down on the 221,000 average figure for October 2020. That would suggest a deficit of 24,000 over four comparable weeks.
The October stats also show a big year-on-year decline of 44% in sows and boars slaughtered - 13,000 compared with 23,000 a year earlier.
Probably the clearest sign of the backlog, estimated at in excess of 120,000, is average carcase weights, which leapt nearly 3kg in October alone, to average 91.5kg, compared with 88.6kg in September and 86.6 in July.
October pigmeat production was 89,000 tonnes, 1% lower than in October 2020.
This picture tallies with general market sentiment that there has been no real progress in eating into the backlog in recent weeks, with allocations at plants remaining well normal levels week after week.
It also tallies with the trends, if not the absolute numbers, shown by AHDB's weekly market estimates. Over four weeks in October, AHDB's estimated clean pig slaughterings were around 40,000 down on 2020 levels.
The situation, needless to say, remains desperate on many farms, with many close to or having already run out of space. The NPA has heard of around 14,000 pigs that have been culled across various units to ease space pressures.
The Government's support package will start to kick into effect over the next few weeks.
The NPA will continue to press to ensure the package is delivered as intended, that is to help reduce the backlog on farms, and that the costs of doing so are shared fairly across the supply chain.
November 8, 2021
Industry facing 'significant structural change'
The ongoing pig industry crisis of workforce shortages, combined with heavy financial losses could create 'significant structural change', NPA chair Rob Mutimer has told the Eastern Daily Press.
Rob Mutimer, who producers outdoor-bred pigs in Norfolk, said the industry has already lost 30,000 sows from the nationol herd another 30,000 could go.
"There are still a lot of pigs backed up, so it is still a very perilous position," he said. "We are also seeing massive price inflation in food and labour and a massive depression in the pig market. If it continues in the first two quarters of next year we'll see a substantial number of people getting out of the industry.
"In my time in the pig industry, I don't think I have known our margins to be worse than they are now. The pig price is down 6pc on where it was last year, and feed prices are significantly higher.
"We have got inputs going up and returns going down, so things look absolutely dire in the short-term.
"But we live in hope that it is going to get better. Our home market has been strong in the last two years since Covid hit, and the demand for British pork has never been better, so we hope there is still a strong demand and things get more stable going forward."
Ministers 'fury' over China pork export embargo
The reasons behind the pig industry crisis are varied and complex. While the main driver has been labour shortages in pork plants, with the Government's migration policies a significant contributing factor, China's refusal to lift COVID-related embargos on exports from three key pork plants has certainly been a factor.
It is interesting, then, to see the Sun quoting Ministers looking to turn the spotlight on China over its refusal to buy our pork.
Under a suitably 'red top' headline - "PIG HEADED China ‘inflaming Britain’s pig cull crisis’ by refusing to buy tens of thousands of our pork cuts" - unnamed sources have told the Sun they are 'furious' with China for snubbing 'repeated Whitehall requests for China to reverse the embargo'.
The UK side now believes the real reason for stubborness is Chinese grudge-bearing over Hong Hong, the article adds.
“China is upset that we’ve dared to welcome the Hong Kong people to our country and they’re cross with us. The pork is just collateral damage,” a Government insider told the Sun.
Ministers are reportedly 'angry as it’s exacerbating the abattoir staffing crisis that’s seen thousands of pigs needlessly culled'.
You can read the full story HERE
Why we need proper oversight of Government support package
In case, you missed it, Zoe has called for proper oversight of the Government’s pig industry support package to ensure it does not deliver unintended consequences for the pig sector.
The support package, announced in October, comes into effect this month, with measures such as 800 new butchers’ visas, a private storage aid scheme and incentives for processors to put on extra kills designed to increase throughput through plants and, in turn, help reduce the backlog of pigs on farms.
Zoe said it remained unclear whether the initiatives will have a significant impact on getting more pigs through plants and, if so, how long it will take before under-pressure pig producers start to see benefits.
With the SPP taking another 3.55p hit last week on the back of low prices paid for some batches of pigs destined for markets requiring minimal butchery, there is also concern that the measures could inadvertently crash the pig price, with devastating consequences for the industry.
“I have told Defra in no uncertain terms that whilst well meaning, I am sure that they wouldn’t want their carefully constructed schemes, designed to bring more pigs through the system, to be responsible for the annihilation of the pig price and therefore the reason many more pig producers exit the sector," Zoe said.
Media interest in industry crisis growing again
The media is once again starting to take an interest in the plight of the pig sector. Following last month's media storm, there was an inevitable drop-off once the Government announced its support package, as everyone took stock and tried to assess how it might help.
This has not detracted from the fact the industry remains in a very difficult place, with the jury still out as to how much the support package will help.
Stories are starting to appear in the media again - see HERE