Small UK family pig industry on verge of demise

IT has happened – we have seen the demise of the small family British pig industry.

That was the gloomy report from Graham Ellis, Stanfords, Colchester, this week. “The watershed has been crossed,” he said. “A lot of our vendors have said, enough is enough. Another has told me that, just this morning.”

“People who have done everything right are getting out, now,” confirmed Ralph Ward, of Hull Livestock Market.

Latest figures from Meat and Livestock Commission economists suggest why, forecasting little likelihood of improvement for a further six to nine months. Even though slaughterings are down by 12% on the year, prices are still well below many peoples break-even point.

Sterlings strength lies at the heart of pig producers woes, and the prospect of a weakening £ recedes, mirage-like, with every succeeding forecast.

Abattoir operators and meat traders claim UK producers will struggle to compete with imports until sterling falls below DM2.80. On Tuesday it was above DM3.04.

MLC analyst Tony Fowler foresees little prospect of improvement within the next six or nine months. He says non-appearance of a predicted autumn recovery is due to an abundance of competitively priced lamb, beef and poultry, combined with general changes in eating habits that have tended to cut overall demand for fresh pork.

Suffolk-based pig consultant Peter Crichton, fresh from speaking to an 1100-sow producer whose only possible option was to quit, offered a glimmer of hope. “Slaughter numbers are beginning to decline,” he said. “Taken with all the media talk of feed scares, and some hope that agriculture minister, Nick Browns, pledge to introduce effective labelling will be realised, there is just a slight feeling that the UK market could improve after Christmas.”

The mid-winter period itself, fraught with holidays extended by millennium celebrations, is a more immediate problem. But, advises Mr Crichton, producers can take steps to avoid its worst effects.

“We are looking at two short weeks, at least, which will mean some killings will be pulled forward, and some put back,” he said. “People selling pigs under contract should agree numbers now, to make sure they are not caught out. If you are selling spot, make sure you have found homes for your pigs well before the time.” He believes some could be sold early at slightly lighter weights, to avoid the Christmas spell, and some lighter ones again sold in the immediate pre-Christmas period when there is always a demand for so-called “shop” pigs.

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