Pig farmer quits industry

Pig farmer Ian Johnson.

Pig farmer Ian Johnson.

A pig farmer is quitting the industry after 16 years because the business has become increasingly uneconomic.

Ian Johnson, 48, of Martlesham Piggeries, Newbourne Road, Martlesham, is holding a sale of his equipment from a 4,000 place pig finishing unit at the site today through auctioneer Peter Crichton.

“We have decided that we can no longer farm pigs economically here,” he said. “The pig industry continues to go through tough times and we have in effect cut back.”

Having decided it wasn’t financially worthwhile investing in the piggery’s infrastructure, Mr Johnson felt there was no longer enough to be made from it to make it viable.

Latterly, he was finishing around 11,000 pigs a year on site, but shut the operation down in November last year.

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“We have unfortunately decided that the best thing to do is to stop,” he said.

The piggery business was started by his parents Richard and Jackie in 1966 and he took over around 1999.

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“I guess there was occasionally glimmers of light. There was always a boom and bust scenario in the pig industry which used to go in a four year cycle, but the cycle disappeared in 1999,” he said.

Those pig farmers who had certain advantages, such as being able to rear pigs outdoors, were able to survive, he said, but his own small 20 acre farm didn’t have the capacity for this.

The piggery had previously been designed for 5,000 sows but when changes in regulations took effect, it was converted at some financial cost to a finishing unit. After a while, the business moved to carrying this out on a contract basis, which continued for about six years.

“That was our last foray in pigs,” he said.

They were moving in “ever-decreasing circles”, he explained. “Eventually it didn’t work out for financial reasons. I didn’t have the confidence to invest in the buildings.”

The situation wasn’t helped by changes in the tax rules, he said, which meant while he no longer could gain tax relief by investing in his buildings, those who invested in outdoor pig huts were covered by relief on plant and equipment.

“The broad brush picture is that there are all sorts of pressures on the pig industry, whether it’s environmental, or cost or disease,” he said. “Indoor pig keeping is completely disadvantaged.”

However, in 2001, he began a diversification project in the second of his piggeries, set in a field called Seven Acres. These were converted into small business units over a period of years, and the scheme was finished about two years ago.

This area has gone from strength to strength, and now, from around half a dozen people who were employed in the piggery before it was converted, around 10 times that number are involved in a diverse range of small businesses on the site. It has also provided his family with a stable income, and had been a “hugely exciting” project to work on.

“I became a builder rather than a farmer,” he said. “I’m very proud of the fact we offer economical space for people. There has been a wholesale move in the UK economy of people moving to a self-employed business.”

He’s now looking at his options for the redundant piggery building on the other side of the road, once the equipment is sold, but has mixed emotions about the loss of the piggery business.

“It’s kind of sad really. I look forward to the future and the opportunities it brings, but it’s sad to reflect that something that was started by my parents is now gone.”

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