In a week when we hear that some pig farmers have started a welfare cull, dispatching young piglets because they can’t move finished pigs at the other end of the line, or sending finished animals to slaughter and incineration, NSA Chief Executive Phil Stocker reflects on the situation and where livestock farming is going next.
Phil says: “The recent problems have been directly caused by the lack of CO2, and the lack of butcher capacity at slaughterhouses, although it has also been pointed out that pig numbers are and have been higher than normal for the past year with a sudden lost access to China. It is reported that some 100,000 pigs are backed up on farms.
In addition, there are regular reports of milk having to be dumped because of a lack of labour in processing and distribution facilities and fresh produce appears equally affected. Government has issued more than 5000 visas for poultry workers and HGV drivers ‘to ensure Christmas day is enjoyed…’ but the obstacles of language requirements, far more than salary thresholds, appears to be blocking the way to more migrant labour. Government is holding fast on their insistence that the solution is for transport companies and processors to ‘pay more and raise working conditions’ and that if these issues are addressed they will attract the labour from domestic sources.
Most industry players would not agree, having spent years trying to get home labour to work in their plants. CO2 is another interesting one, used for slaughtering pigs and poultry, and for extending the shelf life in packaged products. It seems most CO2 is a by product of the fertiliser industry and ironically CF fertilisers have had three weeks of Government financial support to operate to produce CO2. We have to try to rescue the situation for the sake of many individual businesses and also to avoid the ridiculous waste of good food. But should this be a chance to just reflect on our supply chains? I am NOT gloating, and neither would I want to tempt providence - there are no shortage of examples of where the sheep sector has had troubled times. But this surely puts the spotlight on such a high reliance on vertically integrated supply chains that have been designed with ultimate efficiency in mind, and on a foundation of a relatively small range of market options.
Contrast some of this with how we have seen a bit of resilience in the sheep sector. Granted we have fewer lambs on the ground this year, and that has helped a positive supply and demand dynamic and helped keep things tight. We have also seen how the live markets have helped keep lambs moving and kept competition going in the marketplace, and the diversity of our market options means we have fewer of our ‘eggs’ in any one basket. Maybe the traditional nature of our sector, and the stubbornness we have long been criticised for isn’t such a bad thing after all.”