NFU Scotland welcomes the Scottish Government's reassurances to Scottish pig producers that it is treating the sector as a priority. However, the Union firmly believes that more must be done to ensure the sector's survival in the long term.
Richard Lochhead, Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs met the Scottish Parliament's Rural Affairs Committee as part of the Committee's ongoing inquiry into the Scottish pigs sector. The Cabinet Secretary spoke of the progress made so far by the Scottish Government in the pig sector, and the challenges that still remain and apologised for the Scottish Government's 'inability' to act on the Pigs Taskforce's recommendations. He also expressed a request to meet with industry representatives soon.
The meeting was also addressed by Chris Brown, a representative of the Asda supermarket chain, who commented that growing domestic and international markets for pigmeat were leaving Scottish producers increasingly confident about the future.
NFU Scotland's Pigs Working Group Chairman, Philip Sleigh said:
“I am grateful to the Rural Affairs Committee for providing the opportunity to explore, in an official capacity, how Scottish pigs producers can plan for the future with confidence.
“I agree with Messrs Lochhead and Brown that producers are more confident than they were twelve months ago but this respite comes on the back of many years of indifferent returns. What the Rural Affairs Committee didn't hear was a clear vision for the pig industry in the future that can allow those few hardy souls left keeping pigs in Scotland the opportunity to look to the future.
“In recent times, pig producers have had to deal with extreme volatility in the cereals market that provides them with feed for their animals. If this level of volatility is repeated in coming years then pig producers could once again struggle to be profitable. There is still insufficient margin in the production chain to recoup what has been lost in the past and still invest in the necessities, such as slurry storage, in the future. There is no suggestion that this profitable period will continue.
“In our submission to the Committee, we outlined ways in which we think the government could still help the industry in the long-term. The Cabinet Secretary apologised that the Scottish Government's was 'unable' to act on the Taskforce's recommendations to make support payments to those keeping pigs. I do not believe that they were unable, rather unwilling, as they did not venture to ask Brussels whether this would be permitted or not. I therefore hope that he will now give further consideration to the measures laid out in our paper. I welcome the Cabinet Secretary's offer of a meeting at an early opportunity and look forward to fleshing out ideas he has raised and building on our own thoughts.
“The pig industry is used to the pig cycle to which Asda's Chris Brown referred, but the troughs are becoming more extended and the peaks are being chopped off. In fact, current profitability owes much to the weak pound and the strong euro rather than low feed prices and supermarket generosity. Asda's opinion that the market signals are good for producers looking to expand is heartening and I would welcome seeing that develop, in conjunction with processors, if there were an assurance of a fair and equitable division of the financial rewards. Those listening to Chris Brown's presentation may have been given the impression that pig producers receive at least the average pig price, however, my understanding is that that is not the case.”