Pig farming ‘anguish’: Consumers must cover surging costs or lose their local pork and bacon suppliers, industry chiefs warn

A leading NI pig farmer says that his colleagues are likely to lose their businesses due to surging costs of energy and feed prices - in part linked to the war in Ukraine.

By Philip Bradfield
Tuesday, 5th April 2022, 7:47 pm
Updated Wednesday, 6th April 2022, 10:45 am

Kilkeel pig farmer Trevor Shields was speaking as the Ulster Farmers Union (UFU) warned that pig producers are struggling to survive as soaring overhead costs - partly caused by the war in Ukraine - are causing them to make losses.

“We are operating very much below the cost of production,” Mr Shields told the News Letter. “They certainly don’t want to keep the pig industry in Northern Ireland,” he said of the prices they are being paid by the supply chain.

“The cost of production is well over £2 a kilo and we are quite a lot behind that in what we are being paid. We need the price of pigs to go up by about 70p a kilo just to break even.

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Kilkeel pig farmer Trevor Sheilds says surging feed and energy costs must be passed on up the supply chain or many farmers will go under.

“The consumer price needs to go up but the retailer doesn’t want to know about that.They will not pay a fair price until they put us all out of business.”

UFU president Victor Chestnutt added that soaring feed prices combined with “eye watering” energy and red diesel increases has left many pig producers facing “a stark reality” and questioning whether they will be able to survive inflation much longer.

“Input costs are destroying the viability of pig production in Northern Ireland and our producers are experiencing massive losses like never before,” he said. “The situation is not sustainable. In a matter of weeks our members will be forced to reduce pork production if retailers and processors don’t step in urgently.

“Pork prices in stores need to reflect the current cost of production to sustain the sector. With everything that is going on in the world we need to be doing everything to protect our food security and local food production here in NI, not standing back watching farm families struggling to survive another day in business.”

The NI Pork and Bacon Forum agreed that supply chain support is essential to protect the £440m industry. Chief Executive Deirdre McIvor said: “Our sector is renowned for its resilience but in recent months the challenges continue to stack up and our farmers have nowhere to turn. Pork prices in store need to reflect the huge increase in running costs being experienced by our farmers. Only if the entire supply chain pulls together will we be able to protect local pork production in NI. The unthinkable alternative is that a £440 million industry will fail.”

The huge financial issues faced within the sector are causing “significant mental anguish” with many farmers considering exiting the sector altogether, she said. Over 400 families are involved in the industry, and they are struggling to afford the daily costs associated with running their businesses, she added.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Agriculture said that its officials had met with others from the College of Agriculture Food & Rural Enterprise for a task force meeting today, Tuesday, to look at advisory messages to help address the issues.

“The next step is to develop an action plan which will help inform the key advisory messages that need to be communicated out to the wider agriculture industry,” she said.

“The severe market disruptions arising from the conflict in Ukraine are having a major impact on the costs of food production and this is likely to persist for a considerable period of time. Increases of the level witnessed cannot be absorbed by farmers and must be transmitted down the supply chain quickly if the economic viability of primary production is to be sustained.”

Last month Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots reported that he bid for £70 million to help Northern Ireland farmers hit by supply issues linked to the Ukraine war.

Mr Poots said the sector is facing a “perfect storm” of rising costs of energy, grain and fertiliser. The minister said he has made a bid to Stormont Finance Minister Conor Murphy to allocate £70 million to his department to help the agriculture sector.