Bygone Days: Pig producers are called on to unite to save the sector in province (1999)
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The meeting looked at way in which the industry can move forward together in an attempt to secure a viable pig sector in the Province.
The meeting was open to all interested parties.
Charlie Pogue, chairman of the UFU pigs committee, said that the meeting, sponsored by the Ulster Pork and Bacon Forum, had been a considerable success.
“The entire industry was represented within the 500-strong audience, including producers, processors, retailers, Department of Agriculture for Northern Ireland staff, banks, the grain trade and politicians.
“Things did get heated at times, not surprising given the current situation, but there was a valuable two-way exchange of information between the speakers and the audience.
“There were many representatives from the Republic of Ireland and it was good to see a united from between north and south. Given the land border with the Republic, it is important that the two parts of the island work together.”
Stuart Johnston, DANI's assistant secretary responsible for farm policy, detailed government's actions to help the industry and the restrictions imposed from Brussels.
Gordon Summerfield, chief executive of Unigate European Food, outlined the future of Malton in Ireland, while Peter Luff, chairman of the House of Commons Agriculture Committee, detailed a report into the United Kingdom pig industry produced by his committee.
Unfortunately, the government had not submitted an official response to the report and, therefore, Mr Johnston was not in a position to comment on the recommendations.
A number of important issues were discussed at the meeting, not least the fact that communication and trust between all sectors of the industry must be improved.
UFU president Will Taylor, who chaired the meeting, said: “The Northern Ireland pig industry has gone through its must difficult period in living memory.
“We must, however, now put the past behind us and everyone must act to ensure that we enter a new era for the pig industry in Northern Ireland.
“There is an obvious need for improved communication between all sectors of the industry and a more co-ordinated approach to the marketing of pigs.”
Mr Taylor said that it was now decision time for the Northern Ireland pig industry.
“If this industry is to have a viable future in Northern Ireland, it is absolutely crucial that producers, processors, retailers, feed compounders, banks and government all recognise the importance of acting together.
“The industry must not remain fragmented. The commitment which was given by Unigate to work with the newly-established producer group in the province, United Pig Producers, is particularly welcome, as is the news that the group has recently been awarded a grant from DANI under the Market Development Scheme.”
Mr Summerfield explained that Malton remained committed to Ireland with long-term goals, but agreed that communications must be improved.
Malton ideally wanted to be in a position to slaughter 25,000 pigs per week in Ireland with the facilities and space to expand this to 30,000 if necessary. It was not yet clear whether this would be concentrated on one site or several.
Mr Summerfield explained: “Malton must decide how it will structure its business in Ireland.”
He detailed four option currently being considered by the board of Unigate: 1. To rebuild its plant at Ballymoney; 2. To invest in and expand its plant at Cookstown; 3. To build on a new greenfield site; or, 4. To build a plant in the Republic of Ireland.
Mr Pogue said: “As Malton now controls the majority of the slaughter capacity it will have major ramifications for the whole industry.
“It is vital that it makes a decision immediately so that all sectors can government must also make some important decisions. They must now respond to the House of Commons report. Producers themselves must also make some important decisions.
“Firstly, of course, whether or not to stay in business at all and at what stocking levels.
“Secondly, they must decide whether they want to remain independent or come together in a more organised marketing group.”