Country Land and Business Association (CLA) branch member Alastair Butler, of Blythburgh Free Range Pork, on some hairy moments for the pig industry

Opinion: Can Suffolk’s pig farmers survive?

THREE YEARS AGO TV celebrities the Hairy Bikers came to visit Blythburgh Free Range Pork as part of their ‘Food Tour of Britain’ series.

Suffolk was seen as the outdoor pig capital of the UK and what better place to see pig farming in action than at Blythburgh near Halesworth. Pork chops were cooked up with cider and caramelised apples and all was at peace in the world of pigs.

Throughout 2009 pig farming proved to be profitable, allowing farmers to re-invest in housing and equipment, however in the summer of 2010 the industry began to lose money as costs of production exceeded the market price retailers were willing to pay. British pig farmers have not been in profit since.

To make matters worse, since June this year, pig farmers have been stunned by the rapid rise in wheat and soya prices causing the cost of pig feed to increase by 25%. This has been the proverbial straw to break pig farmers’ backs, some have already decided to stop farming while they can still make the decision themselves and not have it made for them by their bank managers.

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In a recent survey by the National Pig Association (NPA), pig farmers representing 10% of Britain’s weekly pig production say if they don’t see a fair price between now and Christmas they will have no option but to stop production — because they cannot afford to feed their animals. In addition to the loss of 1.5m British bacon rashers and 2.3m British sausages a week, this will mean:

1.5m fewer British sausage rolls,

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250,000 fewer British pork pies,

300,000 fewer British pork chops,

63,000 fewer British rolled shoulder joints,

31,000 fewer British pork leg roasts.

The counties within East Anglia will be amongst the hardest hit. There are 122,000 breeding sows in the region producing 2.5m pigs a year. There are over 2,000 people directly employed in pig farming across the region with an equivalent amount indirectly employed in businesses such as abattoirs, feed mills, veterinary practices and equipment manufacturers.

At Blythburgh Free Range Pork our costs have been hit harder than most conventional pig farmers in Suffolk because our meat pigs are free range, not just breeding sows. Our extensive rearing system allows the pigs to grow more slowly and live longer, but as a consequence they eat more food. Nevertheless our butchers in Suffolk have been very supportive; they know their customers want local, high-welfare, free range pork and they are willing to pay a few extra pennies to source it for them.

Blythburgh Free Range Pork has a herd of 2,000 breeding sows and rears all its piglets’ free range. It is the only free range farm in Suffolk that is able to supply local butchers and farm shops with real free range pork consistently throughout the year. With the support of its customers throughout its supply chain it hopes to continue to do this while the pig industry battles with the current feed crisis.

The Country Land and Business Association (CLA) has been a great supporter of the Suffolk pig industry as well as leading the fight to prevent sea eagles being released in the area and battling to save our local abattoirs. Now the CLA is backing the NPA’s Save Our Bacon campaign and raising awareness of the grave situation our industry faces.

However pig farmers need even more help and consumers can do this by sourcing local Suffolk pork from butchers and farm shops. If you are shopping in one of the large retailers and there isn’t a local option, at least look for the Red Tractor mark; this not only guarantees a certain standard of animal welfare but ensures the pork is from pigs farmed in Great Britain.

Of course, it is not just pig farmers who are suffering; all livestock farmers are feeling the pinch, especially local dairy farmers. While this distress goes on, figures from the British Retail Consortium (BRC) reveal food inflation fell to a two-year low in July. The BRC-Nielsen shop price index for July showed food inflation falling by 3.1% during July - down from 3.5% the month before, while overall shop price inflation slowed to 1.0 percent in July from 1.1% in June.

Too many more unsustainable ‘Buy One Get One Free’ (BOGOF) promotions could see the end of local food if we are not careful; it’s everybody’s responsibility to save British farmers.

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