IFA national pigs committee chair Roy Gallie has said that if something is not done about visas for foreign factory workers, 50,000 pigs will have been stockpiled by the new year.

Speaking to the Irish Farmers Journal, Gallie has said that he dreads the thought of having to do what farmers did during the COVID-19 pandemic in America, where millions of pigs were euthanised, but he said if the Government doesn’t act soon that is the position Irish pig farmers will be in.

He estimates that there are about 2,500 pigs waiting to be killed and accumulating on Irish farms, a number that is growing by the day.

Gallie stressed that the factories are doing their best, but that there was only so much they could do without adequate staffing.

“The situation is serious. I spent last weekend trying to find a shed for a farmer to able to house his surplus pigs,” he told the Irish Farmers Journal.

“This is a live conveyor belt and the fact is there are no EU workers to fill these positions.

“We’ve been relying on Brazilians and Filipinos who will come into the factory and work,” he added.

Gallie said that many factories have applied for visas, but because of backlogs in approvals, as well as clerical staff shortages, the visas have not been approved.

He was adamant that these visas not only need to be fast tracked, they need to be issued immediately.

Gallie is pleading for political pressure to be applied from the IFA on the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment to issue work permits immediately before it’s too late.

Cross-border trade

Gallie says there is also pressure on the cross-border trade of pigs as a result of the shortage of workers.

“There is a gang of pig farmers in the Republic that have been sending pigs to Cookstown in Tyrone for the last number of years – which they are quite rightly allowed to do, it’s legitimate trade,” he said.

“These farmers were told by Cookstown that they wanted more and more pigs. These farmers reacted and they increased their herds and they were putting in more pigs,” he said.

Pig farmers down here say they just don’t want our pigs and want to make sure their NI customers are prioritised

Gallie explained that the problem now is that the farmers in the Republic have a surplus supply of pigs and the Cookstown factory in Northern Ireland can’t take them.

“Pig farmers down here say they just don’t want our pigs and want to make sure their NI customers are prioritised."

Gallie said there has been a knock-on effect because of COVID-19, which has resulted in many of the butchers disappearing from the North.

“Many of them left and couldn’t come back because of the volume of paperwork that was involved in repatriating back to the UK,” said Gallie. “All of a sudden, the factories went from wanting more and more pigs to not wanting them at all.”

Gallie explained that there are now thousands of pigs in the south that can’t be killed and the factories in the south of the country are either at capacity or cannot accommodate farmers.

“Dawn has already told its producers that it wants them to cut back production by about 3%. It doesn’t want to expand anymore and it is not really interested in getting bigger,” he said.

Full capacity

Gallie believes that the two Rossderra plants are also running at full capacity based on their labour force, but says Rossderra has told him that it is extremely tight on labour.

He said this is due to a multiplicity of things such as COVID-19 close contacts and people going back to their home countries and not returning.

Kepak in the North is at capacity at the moment. However, Gallie has been told it is doing work on its chill store and line so that it can take an extra 1,000 pigs a week, albeit not until the end of the month.

He had hoped that this would have potential to move some pigs from the south, but he has now been told that the pigs will come from Kepak’s existing customers and they will not take extra pigs in from other customers.