Pig price under pressure from cheap imports

Pig prices have dropped back as rising import levels put pressure on values, according to AHDB figures.

The latest data shows a fall of 0.36p/kg in the Standard Pig Price (SPP) taking it to 200.36p/kg deadweight for the week ending 26 November.

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The slight decrease followed a recent trend of small rises and falls, with the average pig price remaining in a narrow band of 200-200.7p/kg since mid-September.

Although the SPP is still 57p/kg ahead of a year ago, average input costs at 237p/kg in October continue to result in average losses of about £28/head.

The AHDB suggested the GB price was coming under pressure from significantly cheaper EU imports. During the week ending 20 November, the EU reference price fell by a further 0.7p to 172.09p/kg.

That meant the gap between the EU and UK reference prices stood at 29.5p/kg.

The lower price is continuing to attract UK buyers to EU pork and trade figures show that imports rose by 13% between 1 January and September to total 587,300 tonnes (excluding offal).

While AHDB analyst Freya Shuttleworth pointed out that this was still 50,500 tonnes (8%) below pre-Covid import levels, it was likely imported pork volumes would continue to grow.

“In the June Defra survey, the English pig breeding herd fell 18% year-on-year. This, paired with the ongoing cost pressures faced by producers, means it is unlikely we will see a quick recovery in UK pig numbers for slaughter,” Ms Shuttleworth said.

Labour shortage

She added that post-Brexit labour shortages were also having an effect, including on the type of meat cuts imported. In 2019 the majority of imported pork was bone-in for further processing in the UK.  

But during 2021 and into 2022 this switched to boneless cuts, indicating that processors had moved operations to European plants.

The UK appears to be making use of butchery abroad to produce the specific cuts in demand, as post-Brexit staff shortages limited domestic capacity, Ms Shuttleworth said.

As the lack of skilled butchers continues to hamper operations, one of the UK’s biggest pork and poultry processors has launched a £4m scheme to attract staff from the Philippines.

With EU labour supply drying up, the company is recruiting 400 Filipinos to make up the staff deficit.

In a statement, Cranswick said the staffing crisis threatened to curtail production at one of the busiest times of the year, after staff from continental Europe left Britain post-Brexit.

Adam Couch, Cranswick’s chief executive, said the move was absolutely necessary if Britain wanted food on its plates.

Each Filipino butcher is expected to cost between £10,000 to £12,000 to recruit, due to the costs of a visa, a flight to the UK, an English test and accommodation.

In an interview with global news service Bloomberg, Mr Couch said: “Obviously it’s very expensive to bring them over, but it’s far better to bring them over than to curtail production as we did this time last year.”

Last year, Cranswick had 25% fewer staff than required at its plants in Hull and Norfolk, due to a reduction in the number of EU workers.