LOCAL pork producers have taken a 10-15 per cent hit on prices over the past week or so and there are fears it could drop further if Western Australia's freezer capacity is reached.
WA Pork Producers Association president Graeme Dent said the industry was receiving 40 cents a kilogram less than before COVID-19, which was "$5000 off my weekly pay cheque".
He said if the State government didn't move quickly to open up the food service industry it could be affected further as freezer capacity was at a critical level.
"It's getting serious," Mr Dent said.
"I'm only a small piggery with 400 sows - you times that by the big boys, that's big bucks."
Mr Dent said the local restaurant industry received the expensive pork cuts, such as middle cuts and pork bellies and while they have been unable to operate the past month or so freezers have been filling.
"They are getting close to reaching capacity," he said.
Mr Dent said that Eastern States pork producers had received a larger reduction in price at $1/kg but because they had been above WA prices to begin with it's almost on par.
"They have started to settle in the east now because not so much is going into the freezers, it's going into the market," he said.
"We desperately need markets to be open to full capacity here.
"It's 25pc of our business.
"At the moment we have 35-40pc of our business shut down and that's a concern."
That total percentage included WA's largest export market of Singapore.
"Singapore has gone from 150 tonnes to 80t a week," he said.
"It doesn't look like a lot but it is a big percentage."
Mr Dent said exporters had been sending sea freight to make up for the lack of air freight available, but by the time it arrived in port the shelf life had been reduced from three weeks to one and there was a large volume of product to sell.
He said Australian Pork Limited (APL), the industry's representative body, had raised concerns with State and Federal governments about the need to open up the food service industry to keep the pork industry from taking a further hit.
"We are better off than a lot of other industries but the issue is moving product, moving freight,'' Mr Dent said.
"They say we are an essential service.
"We have done that by paying our staff and keeping them in jobs - all of a sudden we are carrying a big brunt of that and not eligible for JobKeeper payments.
"We can't claim any of that because we can't show the figures from 12 months ago.
"We have just climbed out of the worst situation the industry has been in and no one wants to go back to those days."
WA Agriculture and Food Minister Alannah MacTiernan said the State government had moved quickly to develop a pilot project to subsidise air freight into Singapore to support WA's pork industry through the pandemic.
"About 10pc of WA's agrifood exports are transported via air freight, primarily in the belly of passenger planes - the availability of which has dropped dramatically due to international travel restrictions," Ms MacTiernan said.
"Seven State-supported flights to Singapore have taken place, with three remaining.
"These have carried pork, beef, lamb, horticulture, and other perishable produce.
"These flights have made it possible for the pork industry to export throughout the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic and has protected our key export market in Singapore."
Ms MacTiernan said the pilot project was a temporary measure until WA businesses were able to access funding through the Federal government's International Freight Assistance Mechanism.
"We are working closely with the Federal government to secure funding to continue air freight exports of pork and other WA products until international passenger travel resumes," she said.
"As restaurants and cafes across WA begin to reopen this week, we hope to see increased local demand for product.
"We have also increased funding for the Buy West Eat Best Good Choice WA campaign, which promotes WA produce to local consumers."
Twelve months ago some local pork producers were giving away stock to the Food Bank and euthanising some breeding stock because prices were making it unviable to operate.
Since then prices have come back to a high of $4/kg which brought renewed confidence to the industry, before this recent drop.
There has also been the looming threat of African swine fever (ASF), which has put 85-90pc of the industry into a biosecurity lockdown for the past 12 months.
"COVID-19 helped us with ASF by closing the borders," Mr Dent said.
"It might have stopped people coming in with it.
"About 16 people have been turned around, but there has been an increase in the number of packages detected with traces of ASF in the post."
Mr Dent said while pork product was being exported to Hong Kong it was not able to enter China, due to protocols and regulations.
"We can't hang our hat on China anymore," Mr Dent said.
"We have got to look at other markets.
"We can't be so vulnerable that when someone sneezes they shut down half our market.
"The pork industry has a good future - we produce good quantities of high quality and healthy products - we just have to work out our markets.
"We can't be putting all our produce in one basket."
Mr Dent said COVID-19's impact on the US pork industry - where it was currently killing 160,000 pigs a week and burying them due to stop work action at abattoirs - was opening up opportunities for Australia in other markets.
He said Korea may provide some of that additional market share the industry needed but what they wanted right now was "markets to place a product".
He said people could help local producers by "insisting on local, Australian made produce".