There are now just 550 pig producing farms in the Republic with a 160,000 sow breeding herd and a farmgate output value of more than €308 million.
IFA National Pigs' committee chairman Pat O'Keeffe, welcoming the launch of the co-op, said the industry is competing in a free market economy and must adapt to ensure a future viability. A joint North-South all-island industry study last year concluded that primary and secondary processing is generally inefficiently organised; is not appropriately structured, and has led to a costly structure that has served to depress producer returns.
It also found that producers and processors are not communicating at all and that this is a structural weakness for the industry. The study called for a new approach, both by producers and processors, to deal with fundamental weaknesses in the industry that are eroding competitiveness. Mr O'Keeffe said that in response, a number of pig producers, in conjunction with the IFA and the Ulster Farmers Union, formed the North-South Pig Industry Development Group. The objective is to secure the future economic sustainability of the pig industry within the island of Ireland by taking more control of the production, processing and marketing of pigmeat. Mr O'Keeffe said the
desire for changing the current structure of the industry among producers is immense, which is understandable against the current background.
This includes a 13% reduction in pig prices for 2002 (now just 1.26/kg) to below the cost of production (1.30 to 1.32/kg), the loss of slaughtering capacity due to a fire at the Glanbia Roosky facility ( 12,000 pigs/week), the closure of the Greenvale facility (2,500) in Carlow and the current difficulty in getting pigs slaughtered in some parts of the country. Mr
O'Keeffe said Agriculture Minister Joe Walsh must play a more active role in this process to protect the 10,000 jobs the Irish pig sector supports, without any State aid.
The Department of Agriculture has meanwhile rolled out the final element of the National Pig Identification and Tracing System/Aujeszky's Disease Eradication Programme.
This phase involves blood-testing of all 1,700 pig herds in the country, under the national programme for the control and eradication of Aujeszky's Disease. Testing is being organised on a phased basis. Minister Walsh said yesterday this entire project is a very important one for the pig sector. In conjunction with the industry, a new national pig identification system and a pig movement tracing system had been rolled out in recent months.
This made possible the roll-out of the third element, the AD eradication programme.
"It meets a long-standing demand from the sector, will protect our pig exports and facilitate further development of the pigmeat sector" he said.