The future of Northern Ireland’s pig industry is in doubt, with many farmers operating at a loss in the face of a very difficult market, warned Ivor Ferguson, deputy president of Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU).
Ferguson said a number of pig producers have already exited the industry, and without action to tackle profitability this would get worse and threaten jobs on farms and in processing.
Pig prices have been declining for some time but are now at their lowest level in eight years.
“Over the past year prices have fallen by more than a third from 160 to 103 pence a kilo. Production simply is not sustainable at these prices,” said Ferguson.
The main reason for the price plunge is an excess of pig meat on the European market.
“While the recent use of Private Storage Aid in Europe helped prices there improve slightly there is no evidence of it helping pig prices here,” said Ferguson.
Making matters even worse has been the strength of sterling against the euro. This has left U.K. pig meat uncompetitive on export markets, while attracting more eurozone pork onto U.K. supermarket shelves.
To help tackle the decline in prices, the UFU is urging consumers, retailers, processors, food service providers and banks to play their part in supporting Northern Ireland pig producers.
“Without local pig producers, processors will not have a business. They are still making a margin, so they can view paying more to farmers as an investment to ensure their business has a future. We know consumers want local pork and bacon – but they need to seek it out on supermarket shelves and query the origin of what they are offered. As with other sectors of agriculture, the banks need to recognize the scale of the crisis and show more imagination about how to get farm families through it until better days return,” said Ferguson
At a Brussels level, the UFU is urging the European Commission to accept the depth and seriousness of the crisis and to accept that the losses farmers are facing are down to the Russian import ban.
“This ban was imposed for political reasons – it had nothing to do with farmers and solving it is not in their gift. The Commission needs to re-launch the Private Storage Aid scheme for pig meat. It also needs to accept there is a need for export refunds to help remove some of the surplus pork that is dragging down the European market,” Ferguson.
He added that the UFU welcomes EU farm commissioner, Phil Hogan, and farm ministers acknowledging this week that EU dairy and pig meat markets are in a critical state. Member states are now being encouraged to submit to Brussels by February 25 strong, credible measures to improve the situation.