Concern as pigs start to back up

Newry & Armagh DUP Assemblyman William Irwin MLA has said a shortage of labour in the agri-food processing sector, and particularly in the pig processor industry, is a significant concern.

He has raised the matter with both the Stormont Executive’s economy and agriculture ministers as more and more farmers had raised concerns with him.

Mr Irwin said: “There are a number of factors at play in this issue and this is creating a perfect storm of issues for processors who are unable to physically process the pigs at the rates required to meet demand.”

He continued: “I have raised these concerns with the Economy Minister and the Agriculture Minister as I feel it requires a co-ordinated strategy in order to deal with this current dynamic. The respective Ministers are fully aware of the issues at hand and have assured me these concerns have been raised at the very highest level within the UK government.”

According to the assembly member, there is particular concern within the pig sector, with pigs now backing up on farm.

This is creating a massive headache for producers who can’t get their animals off the farm. This adds to costs and creates more issues down the line.

Irwin continued: “There is strong demand for product but the supply chain has to have all the links in place to enable it to function strongly, if one element is disrupted then very quickly the problems mount.

“It must be borne in mind that the agri-food sector is a cornerstone of the Northern Ireland economy and supports over 100,000 jobs. Factors that contribute to disrupting this industry must be fully understood and actions taken where possible to mitigate any negative effects.”

He concluded:“It is vital that more work is done in order to deal with this current problem or inevitably it could lead to greater disruption to supply chains across other sectors in the agri-food industry.”

Commenting on these developments, Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) deputy president William Irvine said: “At the present time some pork producers are concerned about the reduced ability to slaughter at local plants. Labour availability is the main cause as all processors across Northern Ireland are understaffed and need extra workforce.

“As a result of which, we are worried that farmers’ cash flow will be hit hard especially when you take into account ongoing high feed prices.

“Looking forward, the next few months are causing concern also. If the immigration policy is not changed, a backlog of pigs will continue to grow.

“At Christmas there is usually a spike in the market, however, this year, consumers could be facing empty shelves in pork aisles whilst farmers struggle to manage the oversupply on their farms as a result of labour issues.

“The UFU have been engaging with political representatives locally and lobbying Westminster MPs to try and overcome this labour availability issue.”