Pig crisis has damaged my optimism – Anna Longthorp

In this blog post, Future Farmer Anna Longthorp shares her thoughts on some of the impacts of the pig crisis. 

Eternally optimistic: that’s how I have always felt about the future of British farming, or that was at least until the last couple of years. Everyone needs to eat, right?

My son was recently diagnosed with Dyslexia. His teachers cannot praise his work ethic enough, but he just doesn’t get the results to match that effort.

As a mum who has instilled these values in him, it makes me immensely proud, but it got me thinking, this could be likened to farming.

Anna Longthorp

The amount of effort put in quite often doesn’t lead to ‘fair’ financial results.

Which is why Defra are finally holding supply chain reviews into the farming’s dairy and pig sectors.

Having seen the industry go through challenging times due to transparency and the distribution of reward and risk between farmer, processor and retailer, these reviews are not before time.

Summary report

As a pig farmer, the pig supply chain review is of particular interest to me.

It was launched last year and has sought views on issues such as transparency, price reporting, clarity of contractual terms and conditions, and market consolidation.

An initial summary report on this review has recently been published with a list of proposed next steps.

‘It feels different this time’

Having grown up seeing my Dad go through the peaks and troughs of British farming, I have always been one step removed from the harsh reality of farm economics.

But during this latest pig crisis I have been there, holding the reins of my own business, Anna’s Happy Trotters.

To me, it feels different this time. It feels like farmers have had enough and are getting out of the industry.

It feels to me like there are not enough people who care whether we have British farmers or not.

As a nation, I ask myself, why do we not care more about food security and food safety?

Importance of direct supply chain

I have been part protected from the supply chain challenges due to my direct supply chain with our wonderful customers and the field to fork supply chain we have developed with our farm shop and café at Howden.

This has meant we have had a little more control and our customers have paid us a fair price, at least covering cost of production.

Throughout the Covid pandemic we reacted, we worked day and night to meet demand and change our systems, but then when the world went back to normal, sadly, shoppers’ habits have done too.

‘This has played havoc with my own mental health’

The pig crisis saw us with a backlog of pigs. Like every pig farmer, we did everything we could to ensure our pigs went into the food supply chain.

Thankfully we did not have to cull and waste any healthy pigs on farm. However, some pig farmers were less fortunate, and this has played havoc with my own mental health. I don’t know how those who actually had to cull have coped.

Then most lately, we have had the cost-of-living crisis. Farmers have been expected to absorb costs, keeping prices low for consumers.

Future prospects

In one sense if my son decides to go into farming, he will be well prepared for putting in a huge amount of effort for a somewhat less than substantial reward, but as his mother, I cannot help but think that I ought to be steering him towards a different path.

And when farming is a vocation that has given me so much satisfaction, pride and joy over the years, that really saddens me.

In the short term, what the industry needs is a meaningful outcome from the supply chain reviews so that the longer-term prospects for the next generation of British pig and dairy farmers are attractive.

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Future Farmers of Yorkshire Spring Debate 2023