Farmers in East Anglia say supermarkets must put up prices or risk putting them out of business

  • Watch a report from ITV News Anglia's Hannah Pettifer

Farmers have warned that the price of food in supermarkets must go up or they risk going out of business.

The war in Ukraine, one of the world's biggest suppliers of wheat, is pushing the farming sector to the brink.

Since February, the price of wheat, which is used in animal feed, has increased by 50% with the pig industry one of the worst sectors to be hit.

Wheat prices have gone up by 50% since the start of the Ukraine war, pushing up animal feed costs Credit: ITV News Anglia

Alastair Butler, a second-generation pig farmer from Blythburgh in Suffolk, said: "It's well reported that pig farmers are losing up to £60 on every pig they produce.

"We produce 20,000 pigs a year so the maths on that is extraordinary, it means we're losing over a million pounds in a year.

"We can't stick those sorts of losses. We need at this stage our supermarkets to wake up and stop talking about who can sell the cheapest product and start talking to the general public about the realities that food will cost more."

Alastair Butler is a second generation pig farmer in Blythburgh, Suffolk Credit: ITV News Anglia

The crisis has been compounded by a shortage in abattoir staff, largely because of Covid and Brexit.

At its peak last year, there was a backlog of 200,000 pigs, driving down the cost of pigs and forcing some farmers to destroy healthy animals.

The industry suffered heavy losses from which it has not had time to recover.

Now, with feed prices sky-rocketing, many pig farmers are deciding to call it a day.

The industry has seen its breeding herd reduced by 10%, with another 10% reportedly on their way out.

Animal feed prices have sky-rocketed following the war in Ukraine Credit: ITV News Anglia

Simon Watchorn, who lives in Bungay in Suffolk, decided to leave pig farming a year ago and in the next couple of weeks his very last pigs will be sent to slaughter.

"We just can't provide this product at a loss," he said. "The price has got to go up whether you like it or not, and if you don't like it, no product.

"Everybody's been sold the cheap food policy. If it's cheap for you to buy, is anybody further down the chain who makes it making any money? No, they're not and you can't go on doing that forever.

"It's not just pigs, it's eggs, poultry, milk, cucumbers, tomatoes, you name it - everything has been produced with not enough margin for the primary producer."

The UK's breeding pig herd has reduced by 10%, with another reported 10% on its way out Credit: ITV News Anglia

But in a world of cheap food, where supermarkets compete on the lowest prices, retailers are wary of how much they can pass on to their customers.

Over the past year food prices have risen by almost 6%. But that increase in the amount customers pay at the tills is not filtering back to producers and it is now putting many out of business.

Tesco, which reported annual profits of more than £2bn last month, has 27% of the UK's pork market.

A spokesperson said: "We fully recognise the seriousness of the situation UK pig farmers are facing and have been working closely with our suppliers to understand what more we can do to support the sector.

"Through the buying models we already have in place, our suppliers have increased payments to farmers by £3.4million since March 2022.

"However we would like to do more and are actively working with our suppliers on a further enhanced payment plan to support farmers in the short term."

Farmers fear even if the government introduces a hardship scheme, similar to Scotland or Northern Ireland, it will be too little too late Credit: ITV News Anglia

In Scotland and Northern Ireland, governments have introduced compensation schemes to minimise a further exodus from the pig industry.

DEFRA said it recognised the challenges the pig industry in England was facing.

“We recognise that increasing input costs, particularly fertiliser, feed, fuel and energy, are creating short term pressures on cash flow," said farming minister Victoria Prentis.

"We have decided to bring forward half of this year’s BPS payment as an advance injection of cash to farm businesses to help provide confidence. This builds on measures we have already taken to support farmers with the availability of fertilisers." 

Egg farmer Chris Hull is stopping production after 14 years due to unsustainable feed costs Credit: ITV News Anglia

Meanwhile the egg industry is asking retailers to increase the price of free range eggs by 40p a dozen.

But it has come too late for egg farmer Chris Hull in Eye, Suffolk. He has decided to stop production at the end of his current flock of 17,000 hens.

"In the mornings when I wake up, I come out here to look after the chickens, collect the eggs, [and think] 'we're losing money every day, why am I doing it?'" he said.

Mr Hull's feed prices have increased by £10,000 a month and he is losing £300 every day.

"We've gone from a position on the farm where we were just about breaking even and now with an increase in the feed costs we are looking at losing up to £300 a day, it's just not sustainable," he said.

"We can't continue how we are. This is the first time with the feed volatility that we've seen massive increases in our costs and this is when we need to have support from the supermarkets."

More than 50% of British egg producers have said they are considering leaving the industry due to feed prices Credit: ITV News Anglia

More than 50% of British egg producers have said they too are considering leaving the industry, prompting fears of egg shortages should the situation carry on unchanged.

The trade group, the British Retail Consortium, said its members were trying to soak up as much of the additional costs as they could so prices would not rise for people doing their weekly shop.

Spokesperson, Emma Revell, said: "They're absorbing not only increasing food prices but also energy costs, transportation costs as well as labour costs.

"On top of that Global food prices have risen by 13% in the last month which hasn't filtered through to consumers yet, so supermarkets and retailers are doing everything they can not to pass that on."

Farmers are warning of food shortages and an over-reliance on imports if retailers do not offer them a fair price.

But it is also a stark choice for the consumer: pay more or see British farmers go out of business.