Shoppers could see fewer of their favourite pork products on supermarket shelves this Christmas, while farmers struggle to cope with extra stock on farms, the Ulster Farmers' Union (UFU) has warned.

Members of the UFU met with Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots at Balmoral Show, to discuss the ongoing pressure on Northern Ireland’s pig sector.

Backlog of 24,000 pigs

Just last week, Stormont Agriculture Committee chairman Declan McAleer wrote to both Westminster and Stormont Ministers warning representatives from Northern Ireland‘s pork industry had said the backlog of pigs to be slaughtered in the region could reach as many as 24,000 by mid-October.

The Pork and Bacon Forum claimed local abattoirs were working at just 80% of the required capacity to meet the demand for pork products because of widespread staff shortages.

UFU deputy president William Irvine said: “The UFU presidential team, committee reps and chief executive, had a constructive meeting with the Agriculture Minister about the ongoing staff shortage that processing plants have been experiencing for a number of weeks now. The labour availability issue is severely impacting the agri-food industry and in particular, the pig sector.

A backlog of pigs is occurring on farms across NI because processors do not have the workforce required to maintain the essential level of slaughter.

“We also raised this labour availability issue last week at Back British Farming Day with the Home Secretary in Westminster and stressed how critical it is that businesses can access the workforce they require.

"At the present time, our members are doing all they can to utilise sheds for cattle and sheep as processing factories try to work through the backlog, but winter is fast approaching, and these sheds will be needed for other livestock. If things are not resolved quickly, it will cause chaos for our farmers putting more pressure on an already pressurised situation.

The demand for locally produced products such as pork and bacon remains strong, and despite talks about possible food shortages, the ironic thing is, there is plenty of livestock ready and waiting to be processed. However, if the immigration policy is not changed, this could well be the case for certain products.

“At Christmas, there is usually a spike in the market but this year consumers could be facing empty shelves in pork aisles whilst farmers struggle to manage the oversupply on their farms because of labour issues.”