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Pig farmers leave industry in droves, despite desperate plea to buy Australian pork

Tim Fookes, Friday July 26, 2019 - 06:20 EST
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Low pork prices and high grain prices are making it impossible to turn a profit for producers. - ABC

In 60 years as a pig farmer, Nigel Armstrong has never seen it so bad.

As he arrives in an old truck at the pig sales at the saleyards after a bumpy two-and-a-half-hour drive from Gilgandra, on the NSW central west, he knows he's losing money every day.

"It's just awful," Mr Armstrong said.

"The pigs are doing fine, but with the high cost of grain and the low prices at the saleyard, we're losing money on every pig we sell.

"I'm a fool to be hanging in but you just have to hope it comes right."

Pig producers in New South Wales are battling a combination of factors that have seen as many as 80 per cent of them selling all their pigs and leaving the industry.

"We don't know what to do," Mr Armstrong said.

"We've got a drought and so much pork is being imported into Australia — as much as 95 per cent, they say."

One producer, who did not want to be named, said he was spending $8,000 every week to feed his pigs.

Recent figures from the Federal Department of Agriculture showed pork imports fell 13 per cent between 2017 and 2018.

Others speculate an oversupply of pig producers has forced the downward trend in prices for Australian producers.

Saleyards deserted

In NSW, only two pig sales are held at saleyards.

At Camden, in south-west Sydney, sales are held every Tuesday, while at Forbes, in the state's central west, they are held every second Friday.

It wasn't long ago that the sales attracted large numbers of buyers and sellers at saleyards, but those numbers have been steadily sliding with most saleyards now not dealing with pigs.

"Six months ago we were getting 600 pigs at every sale here in Forbes; now we're lucky to get 200," stock agent Murray Reid said.

"Pig prices aren't matching grain prices and grain is becoming harder to find.

"We've lost probably 80 per cent of producers in NSW and Victoria recently, and sourcing local pork in the butchers is only going to get harder."

In recent weeks, producers at the Forbes saleyards have been receiving $3.80 a kilogram for pork and around $4.00 a kilogram for bacon.

"In the past we got up to $7 or $8/kg for pork. Now the farmers aren't making enough to even cover their costs," Mr Reid said.

Pork import criticism

For the small group of pig producers who attended the pig sales in Forbes, there was general frustration at what they believe was a lack of promotion of Australian pork.

"The real problem is we continue to have to deal with this imported pig meat," Forbes farmer Richard Cole said.

"They're bringing it in from overseas, so our prices can't go up.

"There isn't enough advertising anywhere to encourage people to eat Australian pork."

There was also concern that it was too difficult for consumers to work out whether what they are buying is Australian or has been imported.

"APL [Australian Pork Limited] needs to go into the supermarkets and let people know what's Australian pork and what's imported," Mr Cole said.

Tony West's family have been involved in the pig industry in Bribbaree since 1935.

"Every morning I go into the piggery wondering when I'm going to close it down," Mr West said.

"It's just a matter of time until small producers like me have to shut our operation down; we can't keep going.

"Countries like Denmark, the US and Canada have subsidies for their farmers — meaning they can bring in pork products to Australia for cheaper than it costs us to bring our pigs to the saleyards."

Promoting pork in cities

Despite the criticism from farmers, the organisation promoting Australian pork — Australian Pork Limited (APL) — is adamant it is doing what it can to encourage people to buy local.

"We are investing the maximum $5.5 million a year into promoting pork and as a result we've seen the consumption of pork grow faster than other sources of protein," APL's general manager of marketing Peter Haydon said.

"We're very focussed on promoting into the cities where consumers are, not into the country where the farmers are.

"That might be why farmers think we're not promoting pork very much."

APL said it was aware of the concerns from pig producers, particularly packaged bacon in supermarkets that are imported from the US and Canada.

"The reason a lot of what is for sale is not Australian is because of Australia's high cost for energy, labour and grain, which makes local pork more expensive than imported products," Mr Haydon said.

"Consumers need to be prepared to pay more to buy locally grown pork."

APL has started a country of origin labelling trial at one supermarket in an attempt to see if it will encourage more consumers to buy Australian pork products.


© ABC 2019

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