Farmers looking at major pig cull as migrant worker crisis bites

A leading pig farmer says hundreds of colleagues across Northern Ireland are ‘at their wits’ end’ as the industry continues to be dragged down by a shortage of 300 migrant workers.

Thursday, 14th October 2021, 11:00 am
Updated Thursday, 14th October 2021, 11:55 am
Kilkeel pig farmer Trevor Shields says farmers are desperate due to the pressures. Photo: Jonathan Porter/PressEye.com
Kilkeel pig farmer Trevor Shields says farmers are desperate due to the pressures. Photo: Jonathan Porter/PressEye.com

Pig farmers across NI have been highlighting the severe pressures their industry is facing due to a serious shortage of staff in abattoirs and processing factories.

The Covid lockdown saw many migrant workers return home and many have not returned due to post-Brexit immigration restrictions. The industry says UK citizens do not apply for the jobs.

In a BBC television interview just over a week ago, Prime Minister Boris Johnson was dismissive of the crisis across the UK, telling interviewer Andrew Marrs: “I hate to break it you Andrew, but our food processing industry does involve the killing of a lot of animals.” 

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Describing the comments as “scandalous” Trevor Shields of Glenmarshal Sires in Kilkeel says there has been “absolutely no progress” over the past few weeks. 

As chairman of the Pro Pork Producers group, he represents around 40 farmers from the sector. “The situation is just getting worse,” he told the News Letter. “Farmers are at their wits’ end - they don’t know what way to turn.”

He noted that there is a backlog of thousands of pigs to be slaughtered, but while they are being delayed on farms they are becoming overweight, causing the farmers to incur financial penalties. A further burden is the record prices of feed.

Three weeks ago, Deirdre McIvor, Chief Executive for the Northern Ireland Pork and Bacon Forum, told the News Letter that normal industry plans for Christmas pork production were already in disarray. She warned that shelves could soon be stripped of pork due to a shortfall of 300 migrant workers. 

“Sadly nothing has progressed to make things better,” she said yesterday.

“We are still asking for labour, we need some relaxation around immigration rules so that people can come in.

“We are now facing conversations now as to how we might deal with a cull of pigs on welfare grounds. But once that is done, the problems are not solved - it will just come back to the fore again.”

William Irvine, deputy President of the Ulster Farmers Union said President Victor Chestnut has met Home Secretary Priti Patel. ”They are very adamant that the door is not going to be opened for immigration, but there are workers who will come if they are allowed to,” he said.

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