Scotland's Pig Sector is 'drowning not waving' warns Chair

Scotland’s pig sector is ‘drowning not waving’ warns NFU Scotland’s Pigs Committee chair Jamie Wyllie as he criticises the Scottish Government for giving it the ‘cold shoulder.’  He writes: 

Input costs such as feed and electricity are at record highs, demand at abattoirs for product is low, pigs are starting to back up on farm and go out of spec again. We are still receiving a price that is about 20p per kilogram below cost of production and with the speed that the price has been rising over the last few weeks, this will take at least another 10 weeks to get to break even.

A month ago, NFUS wrote to the First Minister Nicola Surgeon and Cabinet Secretary Mairi Gougeon to make the strongest case for support on behalf of the Scottish pork industry to help us to continue producing one of the most cost-efficient proteins currently available to produce in Scotland and to supply the nation with its most affordable meat. NFU Scotland’s board of directors raised the same issues in person with the Cabinet Secretary two weeks ago.  We have still to receive a response. 

Scottish Government talk about doing all they can to help the cost-of-living crisis but, without intervention, we risk letting an entire food sector that is able to produce one of the most cost effective and carbon efficient proteins that our country can produce go to the wall. 

We have made two suggestions to Scottish Government and have received no feedback on either. The first was a direct payment made to each pig farmer per sow to try and recover some of the losses that have been made over the last year. The pig sector is an unsupported sector, and we would not ask for direct support of this kind were the situation not dire.

The second was a “bounce back loan” Ongoers Scheme, which would have Scottish Government covering the interest on loans, enabling us to fix the cost of our overdrafts and restructure debts that we have incurred over the last year. 

Both requests are vital to ensure the longevity of the pig industry. The first to keep us in production now and the second to allow us to manage finances to ensure future survival of the industry. 

Once prices pass cost of production, we can start paying back the debts that have accrued, without this support the current levels of debt will stagnate and prevent any future investment in the industry.

The main pig meat processor in Scotland, Browns food group, recently took a risk and purchased the main pig abattoir in Scotland at Brechin.  But without Scottish pigs there is no Scottish pork, and the purchase was a lifeline to the sector. 

Will that plant remain viable? The Brechin abattoir received a large grant from the Scottish Government a few years back to modernise, expand and grow the Scottish pig sector. This money will have been wasted If there is no pig sector to supply it, and it is a significant employer within the area.

I think the lack of even a holding reply, highlights exactly what value Scottish Government places on domestic food production. The value of the food and drink sector in Scotland is £14 billion, 1 in 5 manufacturing jobs are employed in this sector. Is that not valuable enough to warrant at least a response?

At this point in time unless prices paid by retailers increase overnight by at least 20p/kg, which is highly unlikely to happen, the only thing that will keep us going is help from government. 

Importing cheap pork from other countries around the world exports our climate and social responsibilities taking them out of our control, and places food security for the nation at risk. We have seen this with the manufacturing sector in the UK and it’s not far away for pork and other sectors in agriculture. We desperately need direct funding to ensure the longevity of the industry and allow us to be able to invest in the future. At the very least an acknowledgement the letter would be nice.

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