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Well-meaning support package must not be allowed to crash pig price

5th Nov 2021 / By Alistair Driver

NPA chief executive Zoe Davies 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.

Zoe Davies1The 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 - all 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.

The 800 butchers’ visas, for example, falls well short of the 10-12,000 butchery roles the British Meat Processors Association (BMPA) says still need to be filled, but processors are hopeful that they will be able to bring in extra butchers and it will make a difference. They are keen that Defra ensures the visa applications are pushed through quickly, Zoe added.

With processors still digesting the rules and conditions surrounding PSA, this is also something of an unknown quantity.

Another element of the package is the ‘additional shift’ bonus designed to incentivise plants to put on additional shift to increase throughput.

Measures to ease the backlog are still desperately needed – there are no signs of the backlog easing, and many farmers remain desperately short of space, having exhausted contingency plans. The NPA has heard of approximately 10,000 pigs across on various farms that have had to be culled to ease space pressures – there may well be more.

SPP crash

But Zoe has stressed that any measures to ease the backlog must not come at the cost of the pig price, concerns sparked by recent crashes in the standard pig price (SPP) - including, for the third time in five weeks, last week - following extra culls of pigs for export with minimal butchering, with low prices paid to producers.

“For NPA, the pressure will remain firmly on Defra to ensure that the schemes that they have put in place actually deliver their main aim of reducing the pig backlog, and as quickly as possible,” Zoe wrote in the latest issue of Pig World.

“Our other focus is how we ensure that the SPP is not unduly influenced by distressed loads being sold at prices that are way below the standard contract price. I think we all recognise that we are flying way above the EU pig price which is in turn applying significant downward pressure on the SPP, but I honestly believe that this should happen naturally and in the usual way, rather than literally crashing down.

“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.”

“The problem is that processors are being leant on by the RPA who seem a little overzealous in their role of ensuring that there is no price fixing going on and there is confusion as to legally what processors can and can’t do. A couple of really helpful suggestions have been provided, though, so we will continue to follow these up and see what can be done.

“Although all this activity continues, we are acutely aware that the situation on many farms is still dire and for some producers, these measures have sadly come way too late. I feel for every single one of them.

“We will keep fighting to stem the flow, but every time I think about how all of this was entirely avoidable, my anger and my sadness intensifies. It has to stop.”