Significant drop in pig population forecast for Estonia

By Vladislav Vorotnikov

- Last updated on GMT

African swine fever is now present in nearly a third of Estonia
African swine fever is now present in nearly a third of Estonia

Related tags Pig Livestock Pork

Pig farming in Estonia is facing tough challenges, due to African swine fever (ASF), irrational moves by the country’s veterinary authorities and a negative market outlook, according to market participants.

The country’s Food and Veterinary Department (FVD) revealed that, in 2015, the country’s pig population dropped by nearly 14% to 330,000 head. Overall industry losses from ASF amounted to €7 million last year, and the FVD has forecast that, this year, this figure could rise to €36m.

Meanwhile, since the start of the year, ASF has entered new regions of the country and is now present in nearly a third of the whole Estonian territory. According to Urmas Lahti, chairman of the Estonian cooperative for breeding pigs, the government should pay more attention to the problem of quarantine zones as, out of 31 farms that were operating in quarantine last year, 11 have already gone bankrupt.

€500 per sow

State support is the only possible option that will allow the pig farming industry in the country to survive, say representatives of the two largest pork producers HKScan and Atria Eesti, which sent a joint letter to the country’s Ministry of Agriculture, requesting support amounting to €500 per breeding sow.

As of the beginning of 2016, the number of sows in the basic herd [in Estonia] reduced by one-third to 20,000 head,​” they wrote.

The country’s pig sector has been promised €12.6m in subsidies, but so far farmers have only received €2.6m, or 27% of that total amount. Of these funds, some of the money was allocated to pig producers who have already gone bankrupt and left the business,​” added the letter.

If the full financial support were allocated, it would allow breeders to re-establish the number of sows to 30,000 head within the next few years, claim market participants.

Red zone

Alongside any financial support to deal with the current crisis, the industry is calling on the government to restrain efforts by veterinary services to create quarantine zones that are too large.

As Lahti explained, market participants do not understand why veterinary authorities have established such huge so-called third quarantine zones, referred to locally as red zones. Pig farmers within these zones, following a nearby outbreak of ASF outbreak, were not able to deliver pork to any region outside the zone or to export, apart from to ‘red zone’ territories in other markets.

Trade restrictions and zoning should be kept to a minimum, while the government should continue to purchase meat from the third zones for the state food reserve, while fresh pork from the third zones or other zones facing restrictions should also be offered for public tender,​” said Teet Soorma, general manager of HKScan Baltics.

Meanwhile, representatives of the companies have insisted the state should allocate the same support to farms both within and outside the red zones, as the industry is suffering from numerous problems, including a low purchasing price for pigs following the Russian embargo.

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