The Scottish Government is considering a hardship fund for pig farmers affected by the temporary closure of the country’s main pig processing plant due to a Covid-19 outbreak earlier this year.
The plant, based near Brechin, was closed for almost three weeks in January resulting in a backlog in pigs waiting for slaughter and the loss of export licences to send product to China – a market which accounted for approximately 25% of the plant’s throughput.
Farm leaders say the loss of the Chinese market has knocked £15 a head off the price farmers are paid for their pigs and without financial support many pig farmers will exit the industry.
Andy McGowan – the chief executive of farmers’ co-operative Scottish Pig Producers which supplies pigs to the Brechin abattoir – said although the backlog was nearly cleared, farmers were now in “serious loss-making territory”.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon confirmed a hardship fund was being considered for affected producers in response to a question at First Minister’s Questions by Aberdeenshire East MSP Gillian Martin.
Ms Martin asked what Government support would be made available for farmers affected by the temporary closure of the abattoir and the subsequent loss of the Chinese export market.
She said pig farmers were facing “severe disruption” with increased costs and capacity issues arising from pigs waiting to be slaughtered and a reduction in the price they received for their animals.
Ms Sturgeon said the Scottish Government was aware of the challenges Scottish pig farmers were facing and “active consideration is being given to what, if any, hardship support could be provided to the farmers affected”.
She said officials were in discussions with Defra and Beijing embassy officials to see what could be done to resume Chinese exports from the Brechin plant.
Welcoming the news, Ms Martin said: “The impact of this closure – while absolutely necessary – has shown the impact suspension of work at the abattoir can have on the supply chain and the livelihoods of farmers.”
She added: “I am encouraged by the First Minister’s answer to my question and I will continue to push for support from the Scottish Government and the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy, Fergus Ewing.”
Mr McGowan welcomed news that a hardship fund was being considered and said he hoped the Scottish Government would confirm whether support would be made available in the next few weeks.
He said the future of the Scottish pig sector was reliant on securing financial support and added: “It’s entirely Covid related – it’s unique circumstances and we are really concerned about what this situation will do to the long-term structure of the pig industry”.
NFU Scotland vice-president, Andrew Connon, echoed Mr McGowan’s concerns and said: “Pig farmers never put their hand out for support. This is a one-off Covid related issue and the long-term future of the industry is dependent on getting support.”