Pig farmers in the low-price crisis: “our backs are against the wall”

Pig farmers suffer from the pandemic and African swine fever. The prices are in the cellar. A keeper talks about the most serious crisis of the past decades. Several farms have given up.

Dorit Nyenhuis is a pig breeder with passion. The 52-year-old is heading for a compartment containing high-bearing sows. Here in Theeben in the Jerichower Land district, they have more space than elsewhere. The farm meets the conditions for the animal welfare label.

"We have met higher standards from the beginning: more space, more light, higher requirements for drinking water, climate and roughage", says Nyenhuis. The farmer would like to give her animals fresh air and thus fulfill the conditions for the next level of the animal welfare label.

But the current situation does not allow for investments. "I thus assume long-term obligations to the bank. As long as there is no guaranteed purchase, nothing works. Given the price situation, we don’t know how much longer we can survive."

Pig farmers: "We have our backs against the wall"

In Theeben, Nyenhuis manages 1500 sows, has 6000 piglet rearing places and 1500 fattening places. Most piglets – weighing between 25 and 30 kilograms – sold to fatteners. In most cases, piglets weigh 28 kilograms when they are weaned from their mothers and put out to pasture.

For more than two years, pig prices have been in the cellar. The slump started with the appearance of the first cases of African swine fever and the import ban by China. Then came the pandemic, and with lockdowns, 2G-plus rules and empty soccer stadiums, demand for pork plummeted.

There were congestion in the stables because the slaughterhouses no longer accepted the animals. "The pig backlog has been relieved, but prices are still in the basement", Nyenhuis describes the problem. "Our backs are against the wall."

The piglet producer can call up prices on a weekly basis. Currently they are at 23 euros per piglet. The farmer scrolls through the prices of the past weeks in her app: "In the fall, we had rock-bottom prices of 18 euros. To operate economically, we need at least 50 euros. Except for a short phase in the spring, there have only been prices that are far below this for the past two years."

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Germany records lowest pig population in 25 years

Every week, an animal transporter rolls off the farm in Theeben with weaned piglets – even at a piglet price of 30 euros at a loss. "Per truck we then write 15.000 euros off", she calculates. Pig farmers are used to ups and downs. "But this no longer has anything to do with the pig cycle", finds Nyenhuis. "With us it is 5 to 12. 1600 farms nationwide have already given up."

Hard times for pig farmers

In fact, Germany has the lowest pig population in 25 years. According to the state farmers’ association, there are 23.6 million animals, almost 2.5 million or 9.4 percent fewer than a year earlier. There has also been a decline in farms from 7.8 percent to 18.800 to record. Compared to 2011, the number of farms actually fell by 39.1 percent. 12.100 companies have given up.

For animals, the decline in this period is 13.8 percent. This proves that especially small farms disappeared. A trend that is expected to continue and will not pass Saxony-Anhalt by.

"Those who continue do so because it is too expensive to stop"

"Pigs are currently our biggest problem child", Says the vice president of the state farmers’ association, Maik Bilke. The exit of pig farmers is immense, he said. At the moment, it is impossible to put a concrete figure on the statement. The latest figures from the State Statistics Office are from May 2021. However, the prices are concrete. "If you get 18 euros for a piglet, that’s less than for two bags of corn", the farmer is outraged.

At the low point in November, 1.19 euros per kilo was paid for slaughter pigs, he said; currently it is 1.23 euros. At the same time, the slaughterhouses stored pork in order to do good business during the summer barbecue season. "Those who continue do so because stopping is too expensive", says Bilke. They have a duty to banks.

Whether Nyenhuis can keep her farm will be decided in the next few months

In six years at the latest, rebuilding measures are due, because the legislator prescribes higher standards. Many companies do not have the money for this. Nyenhuis expects more farms to disappear from the market in the coming months. Up to 50 percent, according to their prediction. Whether it will be able to maintain its operation will be decided in the coming months.

"I hope so", it tries cautiously in optimism. "I have kept pigs all my life and want to continue to do so. I go changes with, but if it cannot be represented financially, the hobby is too expensive."

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