Covid crisis a challenge for pork production

Aussie pork producers navigate shifting markets during Covid-19

Pork producer John Singh, Byron Bay is coping with COVID-19 disruption, at a cost, but remains optimistic about sales on the other side of this latest crisis.

Pork producer John Singh, Byron Bay is coping with COVID-19 disruption, at a cost, but remains optimistic about sales on the other side of this latest crisis.


The latest market disruption, this time a pandemic, has forced Australian pork producers onto the balls of their feet.


In the United States, abattoirs and packing plants affected by COVID-19 have closed their doors, forcing producers in Canada to depopulate store porkers and fat hogs, on farm, to make way for new piglets.

It's a scene we won't see in Australia, however the pandemic has brought pandemonium to the domestic pork market.

Producer John Singh, Coorabell via Byron Bay, sells to the best specialist butchers in Sydney, with high end restaurants some of their keenest customers.

The claim is not a hollow one, with Mr Singh crossing Berkshire with Landrace, both from his own stud breeders and outcrossing with fresh semen to produce first cross piglets, selecting for growth and structure.

All genetic crosses are monitored with Pigmania software created by University of New England.

The marbling traits of the Berkshire are retained along with the quick growing nature of the Landrace to produce a profitable pig.

Mr Singh has been able to avoid selling pork as a commodity, although that may change in the short term as the coronavirus wages a war on the supply chain.

Freight is up, especially export airfreight, with a lack of passengers sharing the fuel bill.

Demand from consumer for pigs going into Sydney has been reduced by half, with Mr Singh's shortfall sold on the domestic market.

Meanwhile grain prices have been at historical highs, although wheat and especially barley is now coming off the boil as crops get in the ground.

"Wheat prices for me this year went up $100 a tonne," Mr Singh said.

"The price for my pork has dropped a dollar a kilogram since the Covid-19 outbreak for the wholesale market.

"You have to sell pigs every week to make room for newborns.

"When the piggery is full you have to sell wholesale."

If there is a silver lining it is the increased demand from specialty butchers for high quality pork sold to home chefs, on the rise since isolation began.

Industry body Australian Pork Limited has responded to the COVID-19 crisis by producing a run of advertisements promoting the use of pork in the home kitchen in order to boost demand.

Suckling pigs have also attracted new market opportunities since the global health pandemic.

They were used as an excuse for a social occasion, a popular delicacy.

One Sydney restaurant is offering the meat as take-away, and while its sales are not as popular as when customers were allowed to sit down and dine, they are attracting a new market and bringing in some much needed cash flow.

Michel Ristoli, Capriccio Osteria in Leichardt, said he made a point of supplying locally sourced suckling pigs and after a two week promotion sold out.

"It has been very popular for us," he said.

However, the price he can charge for takeway pork is about 30 per cent down on the fully catered item, and with wholesalers undercutting retail outlets, the price of a suckling pig to outlets like Capriccio is about $20 more per pig than before, which cuts his profit two ways.

On farm security key

With African Swine Fever just a rowboat's ride away from our northern border, producers in NSW need to remain vigilant for breaches of their own on-farm biosecurity plan.

Byron Bay pork producer John Singh said the African virus was the most serious threat to his industry, with the very real possibility of feral pigs in the wild the likely vectors for transmitting the disease into the south.

Meanwhile, his own on-farm practices include no boars from outside onto the property and outcrossing by using only fresh semen, which during COVID-19 has met with transport challenges. Before the border closure the genetic material was sent by bus but now a courier must deliver, at an extra cost.


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