The future of Northern Ireland’s pig industry is in doubt, with many farmers operating at a loss in the face of a very difficult market, according to Ulster Farmers’ Union Deputy President, Ivor Ferguson.

He said an exodus of producers had started and that without action to tackle profitability this would get worse and threaten jobs on farms and in processing.

Pig prices have been declining for some time but are now at their lowest level in eight years, he said.

“Over the past year prices have fallen by more than a third from 160p/kg to 103p/kg. Production simply is not sustainable at these prices,” said Ferguson.

The main reason for the price plunge, he said, is an excess of pigmeat on the European market. “While the recent use of Private Storage Aid in Europe helped prices there improve slightly there is no evidence of it helping pig prices here.

“Making matters even worse has been the strength of Sterling against the euro. This has left UK pigmeat uncompetitive on export markets, while attracting more eurozone pork onto UK supermarket shelves.”

He said that to help tackle the decline in prices the UFU is urging consumers, retailers, processors, food service providers and banks to play their part in supporting Northern Ireland pig producers.

“Without local pig producers, processors will not have a business. They are still making a margin, so they can view paying more to farmers as an investment to ensure their business has a future.

“We know consumers want local pork and bacon – but they need to seek it out on supermarket shelves and query the origin of what they are offered.  As with other sectors of agriculture, the banks need to recognise the scale of the crisis and show more imagination about how to get farm families through it until better days return.”

He also called on the European Commission to accept the depth and seriousness of the crisis and to accept that the losses farmers are facing are down to the Russian import ban.

“This ban was imposed for political reasons – it had nothing to do with farmers and solving it is not in their gift. The Commission needs to re-launch the Private Storage Aid scheme for pigmeat. It also needs to accept there is a need for export refunds to help remove some of the surplus pork that is dragging down the European market.”