National Press Picks up on UK pig farmer's plight

by 5m Editor
23 February 2008, at 9:46am

UK - The continuing pressure on the UK's pig farming industry reaches the mainstrem press today with the Dairy Telegraph printing a big report on the problems facing the industry. Here's what James Hall, Retail Editor, Daily Telegraph has to say...


High price of wheat threatens pig farms

Farming leaders believe that a viable domestic pig sector could be wiped out within months unless urgent action is taken by the government and retailers. The national pig herd has already halved over the past 12 years.

Jimmy Doherty, star of the Jimmy's Farm TV series, has had to cull more than half of his herd of rare-breed sows

Desperate UK pig farmers have doubled the usual number of breeding sows they are sending to slaughter to 7,000 a week because they can no longer afford to feed them following a doubling of wheat prices since last summer.

The high number of animals being culled lays bare a crisis that is devastating the pig industry. Wheat is the main constituent of pig feed, and, on average, farmers are losing £27 per pig due to the massive increase in overheads.

Peter Kendall, the president of the National Farmers Union, said that the pig industry is "on a knife-edge" and that there could be a "massive fall-out" by the summer unless action is taken.

According to the National Pig Association (NPA), the number of breeding sows being slaughtered each week is currently 7,000. This is double the usual figure of 3,500 sows, which are culled because they have reached the end of their productive life.

The increase has occurred since last summer and is a direct result of the hike in the cost of pig-feed, said NPA chairman Stewart Houston.

Given that sows produce an average of 21 piglets per year - whose meat ends up on supermarket shelves - the increase in slaughters will take at least 73,500 pigs out of the food chain within a year.

The crisis is affecting both commercial farmers who supply supermarkets, and pedigree farmers, who tend to sell through farm shops.

Jimmy Doherty, owner of the Essex Pig Company and star of the Jimmy's Farm TV series, has had to slaughter 50 of his 95 rare-breed sows as the cost of feeding them has risen so steeply.

"I am busy killing my sows as I can't afford to feed them. It is very, very difficult at the moment," said Mr Doherty.

Pig-feed costs at his Pannington Hall Farm have risen from £130 a tonne in January to £225 today. "I've slashed my herd to bits. I will go down to a core of around 30 pedigree sows. It is a crisis. It is a very sad thing as people don't see what is happening and don't understand," he said.

Mr Doherty said that without a viable domestic pig farming sector the market will be flooded with cheap imports from overseas.

"It is a real worry as UK pig farming will disappear. People think 'so what?', but the issue is food security. We talk about national security, but what about food security? You've got to look at the welfare of British farming," he said.

Mr Doherty slammed supermarkets for paying farmers rock bottom prices.

"We really should look at the price we pay for food. If beer prices go up, people will still spend £4 on a pint. But if bacon goes up, people say 'I'm not paying that'," he said.

"The supermarkets need to pay farmers more. Because they have such a stranglehold, they can say 'If you don't like it, shove off'," he said.

The NFU's Mr Kendall said that the UK market has been flooded with cheap pork imports from abroad. He said that 70pc of this pork would fail to meet domestic safety standards.

Supermarkets said they are doing what they can to help the industry. A spokeswoman for DEFRA said that the increase in feed costs is a "global phenomenon". She said that a £12.5m package was made to the livestock sector last October.

5m Editor