By Terri Leonard
AGRICULTURE Minister Edwin Poots, pictured right, has said on-farm culling of pigs is not a route he wants to see the sector go down in response to continuing issues around labour shortages in processing plants in Northern Ireland.
He made the comments while discussing fairer prices for farm produce during oral questions in the Assembly on Monday.
When asked by MLAs about reports of a processor having cut the price it was paying for pigs by £13.50 and the implications of this for producers, the Minister said a number of interventions could be made.
“One would be an on-farm cull. Personally, I do not think that that would be a particularly positive thing, because the UK is still a net importer of pork products and requires high volumes of pork products. There is a demand there,” Mr Poots said.
“Therefore, slaughtering and rendering perfectly good food that there is demand for is not really a route that I want to go down.
“I have also suggested that we could consider reducing the population of pigs right back to birth, but, again, the processors do not like that idea.
“The issue at this moment is that there are more pigs available than there is slaughter capacity, although we are talking about an amount that is on the margins as opposed to being in the many tens of thousands.
“The numbers of pigs that are available to the plants and the capacity of the plants to slaughter those pigs could be picked up if there was more Saturday working and things like that happening.
“I trust that that will be resolved in the not too distant future,” he added.
Mr Poots also said he had not seen “a clear demonstration of the justification” for the cut in price “other than, perhaps, a bit of oversupply”.
He added that it was important suppliers were treated well and said he would encourage all processors to ensure their suppliers are “in a profitable circumstance”.
“Often, you hear people talk about fair-price farming. They are thinking about Third World countries and so forth, but fair-price farming should apply across the board. Farmers in this part of the world should receive a fair price for their products, because many of them will be in difficult financial circumstances,” the Minister said.
On the wider issue of fairer pricing for farmers across other sectors, Mr Poots revealed mandatory carcase classification in the sheep sector was being looked at.
He said: “Regarding information on prices, my department is consulting to seek views on the possible introduction of mandatory sheep carcase class-ification and price reporting in Northern Ireland to improve fairness and price transparency in that sector.
“Carcase classification and price
reporting is already mandatory in Northern Ireland for bovine and pig carcases.
“I am pleased to have recently published the ‘Future Agricultural Policy Framework Portfolio for Northern Ireland’. It sets out a framework for future policy around four key outcomes developed following engagement with stakeholders.
“They include productivity, en-vironmental sustainability and improved resilience, as well as an effective, functioning supply chain.
“I intend to bring forward a public consultation on proposals for future agriculture support measures shortly. I look forward to engaging with all those in the industry as we move forward in developing better and improved support measures for our agri-food sector.”