'I'm in shock, it's too unbelievable for words'

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The Independent Online

Neville Kemp, a pig farmer, has gone past despair to what he calls "stage three" - a steely determination to survive.

Neville Kemp, a pig farmer, has gone past despair to what he calls "stage three" - a steely determination to survive.

"First of all you ask questions like 'Why?', then you blame others, and then in the third stage you reach the positive curve - you decide to do something about it and fight," he said yesterday.

Over the past four years, the pig breeder has faced continuous hurdles. The announcement last week that swine fever had broken out at a breeding unit only five kilometres from his land was just the latest in a long line of devastating blows. "I was just in a state of severe shock. It is just too unbelievable for words," he said yesterday.

Mr Kemp, 45, a tenant farmer for more than 20 years, has a herd of 720 breeding sows and a small number of Aberdeen Angus cattle on land near Thetford, Norfolk. Although his herd has not shown signs of infection, Mr Kemp is in a surveillance area for swine fever. The 300 pigs that are supposed to leave his farm for slaughter each week are now trapped on it. By next week, he will have almost 1,000 extra mouths to feed, with little hope of recuperating the cost at sale.

"It takes years and years and years to build up a business like this and overnight you could be worth nothing," he said. "But I am being positive. If you are negative the whole thing will fall down like a pack of cards."

Along with other pig farmers, his problems began in earnest with the crisis over bovine spongiform encephalopathy in 1996. With the ban on feeding meat and bonemeal to his livestock, he not only lost a cheap source of protein but incurred the cost of disposing of it. It cost him almost £120,000 per year.

Next, new laws were introduced in Britain, banning the use of stalls and tethers. Mr Kemp was forced to invest hundreds of thousands of pounds in building more humane enclosures for his pigs to roam free.

The price of his pork plunged. Two years ago, a pig, which would cost him almost a £1 per kilo to raise, was selling for less than half that.

Eventually, half the pig keepers went out of business and supply dropped by one-third. This year, the dead-weight kilo price of a pig rose to more than £1. "We thought, finally, perhaps, we might in the next two or three years start to recoup the costs of the last four years," he said. Then, last week, swine fever was found in England.