Farming Insight: Pigs to the Manor born

Pig farmer FERGUS HOWIE of Howies & Sons at Wicks Farm farm near Maldon on a difficult year for the sector

OUR family business farms arable crops, as well as breeding and rearing pigs and selling our produce under the “Wicks Manor” brand.

This has been a very testing year for farmers. We were lucky that the heavy rains did not affect us as much as others farms in East Anglia, as many farms have seen 25-50% reduction in yields. These yield losses were due to too much rain soaking crops and destroying the harvest. This is now being compounded by the fact that incessant rain has meant next year’s crops cannot be planted. The fields are now sodden and are not drying out. The later the crop is planted the lower the expected yield will be.

Crops should have been planted by mid-October and are now a month late so this year’s wet weather will also now be affecting next year’s yields.

The one ray of light for the arable farmers has been the increase in prices of wheat, now worth �220/t due to shortages across the world. World stocks are now running very low with America like us having just suffered a poor harvest, but theirs due to drought.

This increase in the value of wheat is slowly creating food inflation but has led to a decimation of the livestock industry.

We farm pigs as well as growing the crops and the pig farm has been severely affected by the increase in cereal prices. We have not lost so much money farming pigs for a long time! Pig farmers across the country and across Europe and America have been packing the job in. In the UK over the past year 10,000 more sows have been sold for slaughter instead of rearing another litter, as farmers decide to hang up their hats, and leave the industry.

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This will equate to 250,000 fewer British pigs for sale next year.

Most supermarkets are waking to the danger of not having enough UK pigs for their shelves and are now at last trying to sign up cost of production contracts. These will mean farmers will at least know they will not make a loss in the future. One national supermarket has however decided to remove the Red Tractor from its products and is no longer supporting this banner started by British Pig Farmers.

The Red Tractor is as a way of highlighting British Produce on the food packets we buy. Food manufacturers making Red Tractor products are audited and have unannounced checks to ensure they are not breaking the rules and really are selling British Produce. Removing this emblem must therefore allow this multiple to sell more foreign meat still currently produced to standards illegal in this country.

In 2013 laws in Europe will eventually change keeping pace with the UK (although 13 years late) and outlaw the use of continual confinement of pigs in stalls and tethers. Not a moment too late, just 13 years too late. Only five European countries are fully compliant, Italy is only 33% compliant and France has not even reported how far it still has to go towards meeting the law. As pig farmers we are not holding our breath!

We all hope that our national supermarkets do not import meat from these countries next year. Importing it now when it would be illegal if produced in the UK is bad enough, but importing it when it has been illegally produced must be worse. There has to be a line somewhere!

50% of the UK’s pork requirements are imported as we now do not have enough pig farmers left to support our needs. At Wicks Manor we would have been forced to pack up had we not started our Wicks Manor brand of Bacon Hams and Sausages. We have however been tested this year with the additional costs of farming pigs. Our prices have been increased in order to stay in business and keep our products in line with the real costs of production.

Luckily the year has gone by quickly as it will not be one fondly remembered by farmers.

All we need for Christmas is a bit of sunshine to finish planting the crops, and a good Christmas trade in Wicks Manor Ham!