Local pigs in demand at Malton processor

A takeover at a North Yorkshire pig producer has seen its processing operations increase by a third in a year – and bosses at the £500m-turnover firm have pledged that their ambitious expansion plans are paving the way for more local farmers to become suppliers.

Leeds-based private equity firm Endless bought out former owners Vion 12 months ago, renaming the firm Karro Food Group.

The deal resulted in the relocation of the company’s headquarters to Malton, which is home to one of Karro’s two large-scale processing operations.

Its plans since then have been buoyed by a £60m investment from GE Capital and recently Karro opened a new facility in Malton, to the tune of £3m, dedicated to pork packing.

As a demonstration of its progress since the takeover, the Malton operation has increased the numbers of pigs it processes by 33 per cent in the last year, from 15,000 to 20,000 and it intends to increase the scale of its processing operations further in the coming months.

Karro breeds its own pigs at its farm in Brydock, Scotland, as well as sourcing animals from farmers local to its operations across the UK and bosses at the firm say they want to achieve growth by filling 20 per cent spare capacity at its Malton base with pigs specifically sourced from farmers in the Yorkshire area.

According to the most recent Farm Business Survey, for 2011/12, the Yorkshire region accounts for almost 34 per cent of the English pig population.

A spokesperson for the firm said: “We are committed to the farming community and would like to build partnerships with more pig farmers across the region to increase our locally-sourced pig numbers.

“We have 20 per cent capacity at our Malton 
site and would like to fill this with locally-sourced pigs from Yorkshire farmers.”

The firm is involved in all stages of pork production, from farming through to slaughter, butchery and processing.

It employs around 3,000 people across its national operations and supplies around 45,000 pigs each week for the UK’s major supermarkets and wholesale markets.

Karro is not the only pork business in the region that will be looking towards growth.

A recent trade agreement between Britain and China means the UK will supply exports of pig semen for breeders in a deal which could be worth as much as £45m to the UK pig industry.

Talks have also been held with China to path the way for the UK to export pig trotters – which are considered a delicacy in the East Asian country.

East Yorkshire pig farmer, Richard Longthorp, who is chairman of the National Pig Association, welcomed the semen deal when it was announced last month, saying: “It’s excellent for the industry and for Great Britain Plc that the quality of British genetics is being recognised worldwide.

“The main suppliers of semen are farmers in their own right, like JSR and ACMC in Yorkshire, so hopefully it will benefit those businesses among others.”

Mixed fortunes for sector

Like all livestock sectors, pig farming suffered on the back of the horrific Foot and Mouth disease outbreak in 2001.

The national sow herd has taken a major hit since but in recent years has looked healthier, at least on paper.

In 2008, there were 346,000 breeding sows in England. Within two years, that figure had increased to 423,000 but the sow numbers cannot mask the overall decline in the size of the UK pig herd which has shrunk from 7.5m some 15 years ago to 4.8m in June last year, DEFRA statistics show.