An ongoing crisis of workforce shortages and financial losses could create "significant structural change" for East Anglia's pig industry, said a sector leader.

A post-Brexit shortage of workers in pork processing plants in recent months created a crippling backlog of up to 150,000 pigs on overcrowded farms, raising the prospect of a mass cull of animals on farms.

The government's long-awaited relief package, confirmed last month, included offering temporary six-month visas for up to 800 foreign butchers - who industry leaders hope will arrive in the coming weeks to ease those immediate fears.

But there have also been warnings over the long-term impact of the crisis, compounded by months of high costs and low feed prices, causing mounting financial losses which are already forcing some farmers to quit the industry.

Rob Mutimer, of Swannington Farm to Fork near Reepham, is also the chairman of the National Pig Association.

"There are still a lot of pigs backed up, so it is still a very perilous position," he said.

"We are also seeing massive price inflation in food and labour and a massive depression in the pig market. If it continues in the first two quarters of next year we'll see a substantial number of people getting out of the industry.

"We have lost 30,000 sows out of the [national] herd already, and we are likely to lose another 30,000. It will be a significant structural change.

"In my time in the pig industry, I don't think I have known our margins to be worse than they are now. The pig price is down 6pc on where it was last year, and feed prices are significantly higher. Food is our biggest cost component and with wheat at £200 per tonne we just have to hope that the pig price follows the wheat price going forward.

"We have got inputs going up and returns going down, so things look absolutely dire in the short-term.

"But we live in hope that it is going to get better. Our home market has been strong in the last two years since Covid hit, and the demand for British pork has never been better, so we hope there is still a strong demand and things get more stable going forward."