2001 – A pig of a year

Thursday, 3 January, 2002

By Peter Crichton

PIG prices ended 2001 virtually unchanged from one year earlier, giving little hint of the problems faced by the UK pig industry in the intervening period.

At the start of 2001 the UK AESA stood at 102p/kg and the Euro was pegged at 62p.

Weaner prices had risen to 38/head, finished pig quotes were improving to 100p/kg, and cull-sow prices were better at 65-70p/kg.

However this feeling of cautious optimism was shattered by the diagnosis of foot-and-mouth in pigs at Cheale Meats Essex abattoir on 19 February.

Stock movements were halted on 23 February, and all forms of pig trading and marketing systems were put on hold.

Pig numbers started to build on breeding and finishing units at an alarming rate.

Although deadweight pig sales resumed in early March in “clean” areas under strict licensing and vehicle disinfection rules, live auctions have remained closed.

Many of the less viable pig markets may never reopen.

Producers in infected zones faced massive welfare and financial pressures.

A welfare slaughter scheme was launched in late March, with a base price of 75/head for sows and 15/head plus 55p/kg for progeny pigs.

This helped to put a “bottom” in the market, but failed to take up enough pigs due to the huge queue of cattle and sheep.

Savage cuts followed in April, to just 30/sow and 12 plus 50p/kg for other pigs.

MAFF was re-badged as Defra and the 70 remaining UK swill feeders were shut down on 24 May, taking a valuable recycling system out of production.

As foot-and-mouth tailed off, stock movements became easier, although the industry will face a three-week “standstill” regime for the foreseeable future.

Pig prices have remained lacklustre, with the UK AESA hovering around 95p/kg and rallying to 105p/kg towards the end of the year.

In October, Defra announced that limited pigmeat exports would restart, and cull prices doubled to 50p/kg.

However, this failed to kick-start finished values, most of which had fallen to 75-85p/kg.

The industry also faced the challenge of the PDNS/PMWS virus, leading to high mortality in growers.

90% of the UK herd is now reported to be affected, adding up to 15p/kg to producers costs.

As the year drew to a close, most producers had lost money.

Haulage costs, licensing restrictions and biosecurity measures arising from foot-and-mouth have added to bottom line costs, and many herds have been unable to restock.

As producers throughout the country have found: “Every morning is the dawn of a new error…”

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

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