By Peter Crichton

NICK Brown, the agriculture minister, who appears to have shrugged off recent media attention over his private life, is expected to announce a package of measures to assist farmers in the current crisis.

However, recent leaks are reported to indicate that, as far as pig farmers are concerned, the cupboard is bare. The last time any aid was received by the pig industry was a 50p per score (5.5p/kg liveweight) subsidy paid way back in 1974.

Industry analysts believe that the minister will continue to apply pressure to retailers to only stock welfare-friendly, non-meat-and-bonemeal-fed, UK pork, and may also be looking at ways in which the “fifth quarter” offal trade can be kick-started.

However, the recent British Retail consortium U-turn to exclude bacon from its welfare-friendly, non-meat-and-bonemeal pledge is reported to have annoyed ministers and infuriated pig producers alike.

UK pig prices are continuing to recover due to better retail uptake in the run-up to Christmas and an increase in point-of-sale promotion. This price rise has also been helped by a slight reduction in live pigs available due to heavy sow slaughterings, and the shortage has been more marked in the store pig sector.

Thirty-kilogram weaners are reported to be hard to find, especially in Yorkshire, where sow culling has been higher and spot weaners are nudging up to £20 per head compared with under £10 three months earlier.

The UK AESA is also on the up but, at 66.26p for the week of 7 November, is now lagging 2-4p behind equivalent quotes. Pig traders are expecting are expecting to see spot baconers breaking through the 70p barrier next week, but still warn of a difficult trading period over Christmas.

The latest MLC forecasts are suggesting that UK producers will receive around 110p in March next year, but the strong Pound and plentiful supplies throughout the EU may still keep the lid on prices this side of the Channel.

The overall weakness of the European market is demonstrated by the slump in cull sow prices, where most UK stock ends up. Until the Russian market reopens, demand at the heavy manufacturing end of the trade is also likely to remain very depressed, and UK producers will be lucky to receive more than 20p/kg live for their sows, equivalent to around £40/head.

  • Peter Crichton is a Suffolk-based pig farmer offering independent valuation and consultancy services to the UK pig industry