Blog: Two pandemics and Brexit leave UK pig sector in peril – Successful Farming

By Maytaal Angel

LONDON, Feb 19 (Reuters) – For British pig farmers like
Simon Watchorn, the start of 2021 has brought fresh problems
after a pandemic-ridden 2020.

British pork producers have seen their profits eroded by
COVID-19 and an outbreak of deadly African Swine Fever (ASF) in
Germany, and are now having also to deal with Brexit red tape
that has hammered exports and hurt demand from key buyers such
as German sausage makers.

Pig prices, especially for sows, are tumbling just as feed
costs soar.

“We’ve got expensive feed, ASF, COVID, and now we’re
struggling to send stuff abroad. People have fallen into the
red. If the situation doesn’t change they’ll be shutting shop,”
said Watchorn, who is based in Norfolk, eastern England.

Pigs remaining on his farm have grown overweight and some
have lost up to half their value since COVID-19 disrupted meat
processing last year.

This year, Watchorn said Britain’s exports to the European
Union have been so disrupted following the country’s exit from
the EU’s single market and customs union on Dec. 31 that he no
longer discusses price when sending older female pigs, known as
‘cull sows’, to slaughter.

“We said we’ll sort the price out later, it was just about
(the abattoir) taking them,” said Watchorn.

About 90% of Britain’s cull sows go to Germany to be
processed into sausages, patties, salami and other cured meats.

Government data show 862,000 UK pigs were slaughtered in
January, down 10% from the same month last year, while sows and
boars saw a steeper 29% decline to 14,000.

With Britain’s EU meat exports currently at just 50% of
normal levels, prices in the heavily export-dependant sow market
have slumped by almost two thirds since last summer, only just
covering the cost of sending sows to slaughter.

EXCESS SUPPLIES

Meanwhile, ASF has been sweeping across the globe,
decimating the hog herd in China, the world’s top pork producer,
and it reached Germany in September last year.

China and other Asian countries banned German pig imports in
response, leaving Europe with excess supplies and falling
prices.

In a poll of 69 members of the National Pig Association
(NPA) conducted last month, more than 80% said they are, or
expect to be, in a loss-making position this quarter.

Prices for animal feed grade wheat in Britain are up 80%,
year-on-year, data from the Agriculture and Horticulture
Development Board (AHDB) shows, while UK pig prices are at 1-1/2
year lows as farmers struggle to compete with cheap EU pork
imports.

EU pig prices are at four-year lows and its cheap pork
products are flowing into Britain uninterrupted because UK
authorities are phasing in customs checks on EU products over
six months rather than imposing them immediately from Jan 1.

A German meatpacker told Reuters German pork exports to the
UK are flowing smoothly and even increasing, as British customs
authorities are “waving the imports through without fuss”.

Some trucks are returning to the continent empty in order to
bring the next EU load to Britain without delay.

“It’s especially galling that imports are flowing in freely.
We don’t mind a level playing field, but this isn’t level or
fair,” said Richard Lister, a pig farmer from Yorkshire, north
England.

(Additional reporting by Michael Hogan in Germany, Editing by
Nigel Hunt and Gareth Jones)

© Copyright Thomson Reuters 2021. Click For Restrictions – http://about.reuters.com/fulllegal.asp

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