The on-farm pig cull has reached an estimated 35,000 head, and the backlog awaiting slaughter is said to have grown to 150,000 pigs.
Government support measures have had little effect so far, said the National Pig Association (NPA), after an interview with Defra secretary George Eustice in which he told the Politics Home website that he expected the situation to be back in balance by early spring.
He acknowledged in the interview that culling on farm was never ideal and was obviously distressing. However, producers and their representatives were angered by his comment that in the context of the total number of pigs being slaughtered, the on-farm cull was a relatively small number.
The NPA is pushing for Mr Eustice to hold a roundtable with all interested parties to discuss solutions to the growing crisis.
Evidence of the mounting pressure on producers comes with further price falls and rising average carcass weights, which reached a record of 94.12kg in the final week of 2021. This was up almost 2kg on the week, and by almost 9kg on two years ago when there was no backlog.
The standard pig price (SPP) fell 2.31p/kg deadweight on the week to 140.55p/kg in the final week of 2021, down more than 6p on the same week in 2020. The sector now faces the seasonal post-Christmas market slowdown, with the SPP dropping a further 0.45p/kg in the week ended 8 January, to 140.1p/kg.
Fat probe measurements rose to an average of 11.8mm in the week ended 1 January, the highest for the SPP sample since the series began.
Higher numbers of pigs outside normal contract specifications will have contributed to the drop in the SPP, said AHDB Pork, with only 84% of the SPP sample falling within the 70-104.9kg bracket in the week to 1 January, which compares with 87% the previous week and a longer-term average closer to 93%.
While no compensation has been forthcoming for English producers, Scots and Northern Irish pig farmers have received cash payments.
Scotland’s Pig Producers Hardship Support Scheme has been extended with a further £680,000 of funding to compensate for the temporary closure of the Quality Pig Processors (QPP) plant at Brechin.
This follows an initial £715,000 in payments after the Covid-19 pandemic led to a backlog of pigs awaiting slaughter and the suspension of the abattoir’s licence to export pork to China.
Hardship support in US
US pig farmers are being offered payments of $54/pig (£39.85) for animals slaughtered between 16 April and 1 September 2020.
The US Department of Agriculture has allocated $50m (£36.9m) to help farmers recoup some of the losses they faced because of low prices at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Payments to individual claimants are limited to 10,000 head.