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Coronavirus crisis creates jobs at pig farms and pork factories

PUBLISHED: 16:55 01 April 2020 | UPDATED: 16:55 01 April 2020

Temporary jobs are being created at Norfolk's pig farms and pork factories as a result of the coronavirus outbreak. Picture: Denise Bradley

Temporary jobs are being created at Norfolk's pig farms and pork factories as a result of the coronavirus outbreak. Picture: Denise Bradley

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Pig farms are finding ways to cope with erratic demand and pork producers are recruiting for temporary jobs in a bid to keep this key Norfolk food sector functioning during the coronavirus crisis.

Pig farmer Steve Hart of Norfolk Free Range has been dealing with erratic demand during the coronavirus outbreak. Picture: Ian BurtPig farmer Steve Hart of Norfolk Free Range has been dealing with erratic demand during the coronavirus outbreak. Picture: Ian Burt

Major pig producers and processors looking for people include Cranswick, which says it aims to recruit out-of-work hospitality workers for temporary food service positions in Norfolk to “help us keep food supplies moving”, and Tulip, which is preparing to create temporary jobs at all its UK sites including King’s Lynn.

Tulip says it is “taking all the necessary steps to maintain its supply chain in order to continue delivering food to the nation”, with temporary job opportunities for production operatives and other key roles to provide cover when necessary.

Rachel Baldwin, vice president for human resources, said: “Tulip is looking to ensure we have enough people in place to keep our manufacturing sites operating as and when people take time out of work to care for themselves and their loved ones. If you are flexible, have a positive attitude and ready to contribute to keeping food on people’s plates, we would like to hear from you.”

One of the Norfolk farmers within Tulip’s supply chain is Steve Hart, who produces pigs destined for the meat aisles at Waitrose supermarkets.

His Norfolk Free Range business, based near Downham Market, has also recently added 12 new people to its 160-strong workforce to cover for any potential absences from illness or self-isolation.

READ MORE: What made these two teenagers decide to become pig farmers?

Mr Hart said his farms had already had to cope with rapid fluctuations in demand, including the week commencing March 16 when he was asked to provide 500 extra pigs – a rise of 15pc from his usual weekly contract of 3,300 animals.

He said he was able to bring those additional pigs, with a total weight of 40,000kg, into the system by selecting suitable animals for slaughter one or two days earlier than originally planned.

“They wanted all the extra pigs that we could find that week,” he said. “We sent them an extra 500 pigs, which is quite a lot of pork at 80kg each.

“We were able to do that by selecting harder and we found those pigs quite easily. But you do need to go into more tents to look for the right pigs, you cannot just lower the weight. As a whole, that does not give you any more pork.

“If we have got to find an extra 15pc in a week, then that is really one or two days’ worth of growth. That extra demand is easily done. But if it becomes any more, then nutritionists start getting involved to improve the diet and accelerate the feed conversion ratio. That has cost implications, so there is only so much you can do to speed up growth.”

Mr Hart said the extra demand was driven by consumers stockpiling food ahead of the lockdown, but it “fell off a cliff” the following week as buying habits and household budgets readjusted.

“Ironically, it has gone up again now, but not to those earlier peaks,” he said. “This week, they came on saying it has all ramped up a bit again, so back we came again. We have done an extra 200 this week.

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“I think the supply chain has managed demand really well, and there is no reason to suspect that we will run short of food to supply the public. All along, the retailers have been saying we are not short of stuff, we just cannot cope with the logistics of the demand. By people going to fill shelves and customers not waiting at the door at 5am to go and clear everything out, it has become much more measured. It is working well, and it is all quite positive.

“We have still got the same amount of people and they still want to eat, but there is a period of realignment while the supply partly going to places like Greggs, McDonald’s or food service is now coming back to be available for retailers.

“The same amount of food is there, but people are buying from retailers and preparing their food at home again with their family – which is a nice thing.”


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