Skills shortages and rising costs leave pig industry facing 'worst crisis in decades'

  • Watch Richard Payne's report

Pig farmers are warning of a crisis that threatens a mass exodus from an industry facing a skills shortage as well as huge increases in costs of feed and energy.

One farmer in Wiltshire has told ITV News he's losing around £5,000 every week because pigs are costing more to produce than he can sell them for and is calling on the government for urgent support.

"I've been keeping pigs for 35 years, lived through foot and mouth, swine dysentery, TB, all sorts of problems, but this is far and away the worst because we've been abandoned by the government," said Cameron Naughton whose family has rented 750 acres near Devizes for more than 50 years.

"An awful lot of skilled staff went home after Brexit because they didn't feel welcome here and the government hoped they'd be able to fill these positions with British workers. They've been unable to do that.

"It's a problem the industry has been warning the government about for at least 18 months and it's repeatedly missed opportunities to do something about it."

Some Cameron's 5,000 animals have stayed on the farm longer than intended because of a shortage of workers to process the pork. Pigs weighing 140 kilograms are beyond the prime weight supermarkets demand so their value is reduced.

Add to that the vast amount of food they need every day and farmers are being hit by a double blow.

Cameron, who breeds his animals outdoors, says his production costs have risen from 165p a kilo late last year to 210p now. Achieving just 170p per kilo of meat, he estimates he's losing around £5,000 every week.

"Every three weeks we have about 60 sows, mother pigs, giving birth which means there's roughly 600 babies being born every three weeks," he added. "If we're not able to sell bigger pigs at the other end it doesn't take long for us to start to get a build up."

Cameron's feed costs have jumped more than 100% in some cases, partly due to the war in Ukraine. To cut costs, breeding pig numbers have been reduced from 550 to 400 and full-time staff from 10 to seven.

"It's placed a huge stress on myself, my wife, our staff, and, of course, our bank balance because we have been able to look after our animals to the best of our ability, we have been able to access extra accommodation so we haven't had to overcrowd them, but it is costing us a huge amount of money."

Unsustainable costs which he predicts will cause a 'rapid downward spiral' of RSPCA assured farms with pigs bred outdoors, overtaken by cheaper imported meat produced to standards he says are illegal in the UK.

Cameron said: "I the public would be quite shocked to realise that our government is hindering the supply of quality British pigs and allowing imported product at the expense of British production."

The Environment Secretary MP George Eustice says his department is working to help more butchers travel from overseas. He said: "I think they expected that more of the settle EU citizens who are here would have stayed but during coronavirus many of those went home.

"This led to a gap before they could fill them with new butchers coming in from other countries. That now is starting to be rectified.

"The big processors are bringing in butchers from overseas through that visa route that we established and that's how we're managing to get things back into balance."