Rising feed costs and volatile prices are just some of the difficulties plaguing pig producers over recent months.
Below, Rob Mutimer, chairman of the National Pig Association (NPA), shares his thoughts on the current challenges and opportunities for the UK pig sector, as well as how producers and the wider supply chain can build resilience.
Mr Mutimer cites four main challenges facing the industry:
- Costs The cost of feed compared with the pigmeat price is the biggest concern at present, and it does not look like improving in the immediate future. This is not necessarily because of the meat price, but because feed costs have risen so rapidly in comparison
- Labour This is a challenge at both farm and processing level. East European labour has traditionally made up a lot of the workforce, but this pool of availability is diminishing fast. Many farmers are running with 10% less labour than they would like to
- Government policy Plans for the future of farrowing crates are a big worry
- Trade deals Eighteen months on from Brexit, it is still not clear what our trading terms and relationships are going to be with countries such as the US.
Despite these challenges, there are openings for growth, Mr Mutimer argues:
- Lower European pork production Levels across Europe have dropped significantly, so there should be opportunities for the UK in the short term
- UK outdoor herd Outdoor herds make up about 50% of overall production now. Not many other countries globally can compete with this system, making it a real positive
- Cheap protein source for consumers The AHDB’s midweek meals campaign is doing a great job of educating consumers on the benefits of pork and why it is a nutritious, tasty, cheap protein source. Beef and chicken prices have risen rapidly over the past four to five years, so there is room for pork demand to grow.
Anyone still operating in the pig industry after such a turbulent 12 months is the true definition of resilient, says Mr Mutimer. Many producers have been tested to the Nth degree.
The only body which can help with the resilience and viability of the British pig industry now is the government, he argues.
“So far, my dealings with the Home Office have been unbelievably obtuse and unhelpful,” he says.
Aside from politics, technology has a role to play in tackling some of the biggest challenges in the pig sector.
“We have seen genetics progress a lot recently,” he says. “However, we must ensure these progressions continue, to ensure we do not fall behind our competitors.”
The indoor sector is also likely to benefit from automation technology, he adds. This may help relieve some of the pressures on labour, for example.
But improvements and the adoption of technology are also needed at the processing end to ensure more pigs can be processed more quickly.