Pig industry leaders say they are not convinced the extension of the Slaughter Incentive Payment Scheme (Sips) will help the sector in a meaningful way, even though payments have risen and the rules have been widened.
Sips was introduced late last year and was designed to reduce the backlog of pigs on farms by offering a cash incentive for processors to introduce additional slaughter shifts.
The first round of the scheme offered a payment of £3/head for eligible pigs slaughtered on any extra shifts processors ran between 16 November and 20 December 2021.
Despite pig industry leaders reporting that the support measure had had little, if any, impact on the backlog, Defra has announced that a revised SIP scheme (Sips 2022) will now be available to processors.
The scheme, which will be limited to 100,000 pigs, opened on 14 January and is expected to run until 31 March.
The main changes are that the payment will rise to £10/pig and the list of permitted cuts of pigmeat from animals slaughtered during a Sips shift has been extended to include boned-out cuts.
Previously, the rules stated that any meat produced on these shifts had to be cut into six bone-in cuts per carcass (2 x legs, 2 x middles, 2 x shoulders) and either put into storage through the Private Storage Aid (PSA) scheme or exported.
The cuts are not allowed to go to any other end use.
Scheme has ‘not delivered’
National Pig Association chief executive Zoe Davies said the organisation was not convinced that the extension would help in any meaningful way, and more was needed to save the pig industry.
“So far, Defra’s support package, while well-intentioned, has not delivered at all on its primary aim of reducing the pig backlog,” she said.
“In fact, the problem is getting worse, the backlog is growing and contingency plans on farms are being exhausted.
“We are seeing more and more producers having to resort to the horrific step of culling and destroying pigs just to make space.”
The NPA said it wanted Defra secretary George Eustice to convene a roundtable event bringing together interested parties to discuss effective ways to get more pigs through the system.
It estimates there is still a backlog of 140,000 pigs on farms and farmers have been left in a dire financial situation, exacerbated by record feed costs and falling prices.
A spokesman for the British Meat Processors Association (BMPA) said improving the Sips payment and expanding what was allowable was helpful, but it was too early to know what kind of difference it might make.
Processors had to consider a number of “moving parts” which would affect their decision-making about the scheme, he said.
For example, if they were unable to export the meat they had to freeze it under Private Aid Storage (PSA) scheme rules, which meant they incurred additional costs in terms of electricity, tied up capital and reduced the value of the product, compared to fresh pork.
“They then need to find a market for the product when it comes out and that is sometimes a little more difficult because we still don’t have the China market back and so we have to sell into other overseas markets that don’t pay the premiums that China used to pay.
“It is really difficult to anticipate how it will all play out,” the spokesman said.
The third part of Defra’s package of support measures announced in October 2021 was to encourage more overseas workers by offering up to 800 temporary visas to butchers.
However, it is understood that the numbers who have been recruited are much lower than this, with some estimates putting the total at 100 to 250.
A Defra spokesman said the department was unable to confirm numbers.
“Visa statistics relating to the number of visas issued under any aspect of the temporary scheme will be released by the Home Office as part of their quarterly immigration statistics reporting requirements,” the spokesman said.