(last updated July 2019)
What has been happening in the pig sector
The pig meat sector in the UK has always been cyclical, meaning that peaks and troughs in profitability are the norm. For much of the 2000s the troughs became harder to weather for pig producers, especially small-scale ones, and the peaks became less profitable than in previous years. The Foot and Mouth Disease outbreak at the start of the decade also had a negative impact, despite the actual disease being more concentrated in other livestock sectors.
Although the second half of the 2000s and opening years of the 2010s saw producer prices rising, there were also large increases in the cost of feed and other inputs and this meant that many small producers still found it difficult to break even. The last few months of 2013 and all of 2014 was a much better period for pig farmers, with low feed prices and reasonably good producer prices boosting profitability for most. Although feed prices remained low throughout 2015, the price received by the producer kept falling throughout the year and into 2016. This once again put pressure on producers' profit margins. Pig producer prices started to pick up during the second half of 2016 while feed prices stayed reasonably stable. However feed prices climbed once again during the summer months, squeezing margins again. Things improved during 2017 - although feed costs went up, producer prices went up even more, increasing margins to levels last seen at the end of 2013. Producer prices started to fall towards the end of 2017 and into 2018 and feed costs started to go up again. The weak pound may boost the competitiveness of UK pig production.
Some pig farmers have converted to selling direct to the public through farmers markets, mail order, online or their own outlets in an attempt to improve their profitability and for many of these the change has been successful.
The UK has been at the forefront of pig welfare since the late 1990s when close confinement stalls for breeding sows were banned. (In contrast there is only a partial ban on stalls in the rest of the EU, starting in January 2013.) Further welfare requirements were introduced in 2003, with new pig units having to comply with maximum slot widths and minimum slat widths for concrete floors, minimum pen lengths and unobstructed floor area and dimensions for solid floors. Since January 2013, all pig units now have to comply with these requirements. Very many pig producers in the UK are members of farm assurance schemes, in particular Assured British Pigs.
Other significant recent developments have been:
- the requirement for pig farmers to provide food chain information when they send their animals for slaughter. You can find out more on the Food Standards Agency website
- the implementation of nitrate pollution prevention regulations which introduced several new requirements for pig farmers. There's further information available on the Gov.uk website
- recent industry initiatives to boost productivity
Following the UK's vote to leave the EU, the pig industry called on the government to maintain free access to the EU and to make sure that any future trade deals wouldn't increase competition by allowing the import of lower standard pork products. The industry also wants to be able to carry on employing the many EU workers that the pig sector relies on.
Keep up to date with developments
Useful information on the pig sector can be obtained from industry body AHDB Pork, which publishes many useful periodicals and annual publications about the pig sector.
The pig sector is also represented by the National Pig Association and the British Pig Association.
Trade journals such as Pig World and Farmers Weekly provide up to date information about issues affecting the sector as well as useful tips and guidance.