Farmers reeling from two-month pork strike

After nearly two months, a strike at KZN pork processor Frey’s Meats processing plant in Cato Ridge is over. But not before it inflicted serious harm on pig farmers.

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Dundee pig farmer Fritz Botes, who has a 500-sow unit, said the past two months had been the worst in his 15-year pig farming career. “We were struggling to sell pigs. I had to virtually give them away at low cost. I hope I never experience anything like this again,” Botes said.

Barry Gibbs, vice-chairperson of the South African Pork Producers’ Organisation (SAPPO) and chairperson of the KZN Pork Producers, said the strike led to a surplus of pigs which affected market prices across SA. “Frey’s normally processes 3 000 pigs a week and that dropped to zero.

Unfortunately, being a continuous operation, we could not keep pigs indefinitely as we need space. We sold as many as possible to the processed industry and we boxed a lot of pigs. Those will slowly be sold back into the processed market. Unfortunately, it means the farmer won’t get paid until then,” Gibbs said. He said the industry was about 50% processed and 50% fresh pork.

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“Now that Frey’s is back in operation, hopefully we will get back to normal production and the price will increase. If it doesn’t, every farmer is in trouble. The price is R2 to R3 below production costs at the moment, at about R17/kg in KZN. Gibbs said imports were the single biggest problem in the industry, mainly from subsidised producers in Germany, Canada, Spain and France. “South Africans should learn to buy locally. It keeps jobs in the country.” Frey’s Foods could not divulge any details of the strike in accordance with an agreement signed with the unions.