Members of the Stormont agriculture committee have been left in no doubt as to the serious situation facing NI pig farmers.

Providing an update last Thursday, Pork and Bacon Forum chief executive Deirdre McIvor outlined how farmers are facing record feed prices, while at the same time seeing pigs backlogged on farms due to skill shortages in local factories.

“Farmers, their heads are down, they are under severe pressure economically – it is a nasty perfect storm hitting at this point.

“Farmers will need some kind of financial support,” said McIvor.

During her evidence, she urged MLAs to continue to lobby the UK government for changes to rules around bringing in foreign workers, and in particular, for the inclusion of skilled butchers on a Home Office shortage occupation list.

Why would you give up a job you already have to come here for three months?

Last October, the UK government did announce that 800 butchers would be allowed in on a temporary visa to help clear a backlog of pigs on farms.

“Why would you give up a job you already have to come here for three months?” queried McIvor, who confirmed that none of these workers made it to NI.

With processors struggling for staff, they have had to prioritise slaughter lines to keep pigs moving off farms.

But that means taking workers away from added-value processing lines.


In addition, with some pigs running overweight, processors have been unable to service higher-value customers, and been forced to sell bone-in pigmeat on European markets.

“It is at a very low-level price, and that is continuing to depress the market further,” said McIvor.

She accepted that all costs are passed back to producers, with £30 to £40 penalties on overweight pigs, and the likes of Cranswick deducting £52.50 per head to slaughter on a Saturday to help deal with the backlog.

She was also challenged by DUP MLA William Irwin as to why Karro in Cookstown has continued to slaughter 8,000 to 9,000 pigs from the Republic of Ireland (ROI) each week, when NI farmers are under so much pressure.

According to McIvor, that trade is a long-standing part of the Karro business model, with the pork sold back to ROI customers. “But even if we took it out, it still doesn’t address the problem – the labour shortfall is that severe,” she argued.

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