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Pork farmers narrowly avoid culling thousands of pigs as lockdown cuts supply chains

New Zealand’s pork industry has narrowly avoided a massive cull at pig farms, after Covid-19 shut down major supply lines.

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The Government is one of many groups stepping in to help after Covid-19 shut down major supply lines, buying up to 2000 pigs a week with food banks benefitting. Source: 1 NEWS

The Government is one of many groups stepping in to help, buying up to 2000 pigs a week and sending the pork to food banks.

Every week at Pleasant Point in Canterbury, a new batch of piglets comes into the world. It’s a continuous cycle where they're moved quickly into and, eventually, go on to the slaughterhouse.

However, coronavirus interruption that flow and caused things to get a little cramped.

“Every week we need animals to leave the farm, so we've always got enough space for everything here on farm, and of course Covid-19 disrupted our normal chains of supply significantly,” pig farmer Helen Andrews said.

Pleasant Point’s troubles began when Alert Level 4 lockdown shut restaurants and independent retail outlets like butchers.

That meant thousands of pigs had nowhere to go.

For Ms Andrews’ farm, they were just 14 days from hitting their maximum herd limit, and without the immediate intervention there would have been a widespread cull.

New Zealand pork says the backlog of pigs had created a “totally unprecedented” scenario for the domestic market.

“All of a sudden to have fifty per cent of the doors closed is something we've never seen before,” spokesperson David Baines said.  

The Government has announced an urgent action plan, buying up to 2,000 pigs a week from New Zealand farms the last month and a half.

The excess pork meat has then been packaged and sent off to food banks, like Good Neighbours in Tauranga, to help feed those in need.

“We haven't had pork come through in those quantities before, we've had two pallets of it, so we've been able to give it out to families and the response has been amazing," Good Neighbours’ Campbell Hill said.  

Other meat has been diverted to supermarkets and wholesalers, who are now storing some frozen product, but farmers still face an uncertain future as some restaurants are going broke.

“We’re not at the finish line, this is a long, long game, and we still need that collaboration to allow us to continue to be viable going forward,” Ms Andrews said.