10 July 1998

Fire tightens screw on pig returns

PIG prices could come under further pressure after last months fire at Unigates Northern Ireland factory at Ballymoney.

The blaze at the Co Antrim site, which handled about 25% of the Provinces pigs, has left farmers facing logistical problems.

Some, says Wesley Aston of the Ulster Farmers Union, are not even asking about price when they now contact processors. "They just say: Can you take the pigs."

Such "distressed" sales – both of stock and of the processed product – could also reduce prices in the Republic and on the mainland, says Mr Aston. "A private storage aid scheme – although not straightforward – would at least provide a market."

But Aujeszkys Disease rules are limiting the likelihood of big numbers of live animals coming across the water for slaughter. And this disease risk, says Scottish NFU pigs committee convener Andrew Peddie, was a bigger worry than any price fall after the fire. "The prospect of 8000 pigs a week coming across horrified me."

Imports continue to put a "glass ceiling" on GB values, says consultant Peter Crichton. None of the abattoirs are finding it hard to buy pigs, he says. "They are buying cheaper and selling cheaper – and farmers are on a downward spiral."

lThe average price of pigs sold at auction in England and Wales on Tuesday was 60.5p/kg lw, down more than 3p on the week. &#42