PIG farmers in Oxfordshire have warned they are finding it increasingly difficult to bring home the bacon and many could go bust because of rising feed prices.
The county has a long tradition of pig farming and even pioneered pigs living outside in half-moon huts back in the 1970s.
But Oxfordshire’s pig population has dropped from more than 177,000 in 1975 to 79,000 in 2009.
According to the National Pig Association (NPA), about 10 per cent of Oxfordshire’s small to medium-sized producers could be forced to leave the industry this year because of the rising cost of wheat, which is used to make pig feed.
Wheat has increased in price by about a quarter following the USA heatwave and drought earlier this year, while the UK market has been unable to make up the grain shortfall following a year of drought followed by flood.
Supermarkets have also been blamed for putting pig farmers under pressure by sourcing cheaper but less stringently produced pork products from outside the UK.
Mother-of-two Louise Davidson, 55, of Oathill Farm, near Enstone, was forced to give up pig farming in 2007 when she could no longer make it pay. Her family had been farming pigs since 1924.
She said: “The situation is awful for pig farmers. But if Tesco and Sainsbury can buy their pork cheaper from Eastern Europe, then that it what is going to happen.”
James Blanchard’s family have been rearing pigs near Abingdon since the 1960s and have a herd of 700 sows.
Mr Blanchard, 27, said: “From 2010 to 2011 our feed costs rose 25 per cent and have continued to rise since, while the pig meat price fell from 151.1p per kilo to 136.1p per kilo in the same period.
“Sixty per cent of our production costs are now feed and at this level it could force us out of farming pigs – which is our main business and employs eight staff.”
Dave Holloway has farmed free-range pigs at Callow Farm near Stonesfield in west Oxfordshire for 15 years.
He said: “Each year I ask myself: ‘Why I am I doing this?’ But like many pig producers I do it because I am passionate about the product.
“I am lucky in a sense because I sell my pork in my farm shop – so I am able to set my own prices. But the larger producers are governed by the global market and as a result, the pig farmers I would have been able to name around here five years ago are simply all gone.”
Sally Stockings has been farming pigs at Potters Farm, Ewelme, near Wallingford, for 25 years and is on the board of the National Pig Association.
She has a herd of 5,000 pigs in Ewelme, with breeding sows in Dorset, Devon and Hampshire.
She said: “I am very lucky in that some of my meat goes to the supermarket Waitrose which is very supportive of British farmers and appreciates that my costs are constantly going up and down and pays me accordingly.
“But the gap between production and sales for most pig farmers is now next to nothing and as a result each week I hear of more farmers saying that they can’t make it work any more.
“Some are moving into rare breeds, but it’s actually pig farmers who are becoming a rare breed! It frightens me because more and more crops are being used for energy production and I just can’t see the price of feed going down. And once farmers are gone they are gone.”
Zoe Davies, general manager of the NPA, said small and medium pig farmers’ only real hope was if shoppers and supermarkets got behind them.
No-one from the major supermarket chains was available to comment.