A new age of farming: are we embracing our technology?

The Pig Site speaks to Bob Dixon, ABN national sales manager, about the challenges that the livestock industry is facing, and how ABN is addressing such issues through partnership and innovation
calendar icon 6 June 2018
clock icon 6 minute read

In your opinion, what are some of the biggest issues facing the livestock industry now and potentially in the future?

The challenge posed by antibiotic reduction will continue to be a key focus for the pig industry until the target date of 2022, and potentially beyond. However, we have seen producers really rise to meet this challenge with the latest figures showing that usage has halved over the past two years. This data was taken from the

AHDB’s electronic medicine book (eMB), a project which ABN has collaborated with the AHDB on, to make recording data as easy as possible for our customers.

As the targets become harder to achieve year-on-year, we believe by enabling our customers to streamline data transfer and to monitor usage in one place, they can demonstrate the proactive changes that they’re making.

This ongoing work towards antibiotic reduction however is made more complicated by last year’s announcement to ban on the use of zinc oxide in animal feed, and the call for a significant reduction of copper for post-weaning piglets. Given that zinc oxide and copper significantly reduce the need for antibiotics to treat enteric disease in post-weaners, this has had a big-impact on the industry as a whole. The good news is that the industry has been conducting research into nutritional alternatives, including ABN’s own nutritional experts.

How is ABN addressing these issues?

As a company, we are committed to working closely with our customers, nutritionists and especially vets to find a way forward for the industry for both antibiotic reduction and meeting the guidelines around zinc and copper. For example, we’re working with the University of Leeds to understand the benefits of acidification in low copper diets on gut health and growth. We are also conducting a separate research study to examine whether probiotics can be used to replace the positive effects of zinc oxide on gut health. These ABN-sponsored trials join a body of research being conducted elsewhere in the industry, both in the UK and beyond.

Meeting retailer requirements for responsible sourcing and sustainability also remains at the forefront for farmers and there is still a need for better industry guidance in this area. To support our customers, ABN works closely with prominent bodies in setting-up certifications. We have experts in these fields, particularly with regards to soya, and we work as trusted advisors, providing guidance to our customers on the changes they must implement to be compliant.

Finally, securing a successful future for our industry is extremely important and this is another area where ABN is playing a key role. We are committed to attracting the next generation into the industry. As such, we run a pig scholarship every year. We work closely with many different universities, notably Harper Adams and the University of Leeds, and undertake academic research as well as offering practical work experience initiatives.

Can you explain some more about your focus for 2018 – ‘performance improvement’?

We believe that being able to measure, benchmark and informatively manage and improve performance is fundamental to business success within the pig industry. It’s an area which underpins everything we do. We pride ourselves on driving the most efficient diets and food regimes for our customers’ livestock. We work together with our customers to help them measure their performance and pinpoint where improvements can be made, whether that’s on-farm with growth and breeding rates, through improving environmental practices or within their supply chains.

We provide continuous professional development and training to our team ensure that they are abreast of all developments in the industry. All of our account managers are also feed-advisor registered.

In one sentence, how would you describe the work that ABN is doing to improve agriculture?

At ABN, we work as trusted partners to our customers, to understand what they need and to help them achieve their objectives and ambitions.

Can you tell me a little bit more about the development of the eMedicine Book (eMB-Pigs)?

eMB-Pigs (eMedicine Book) is a UK-wide website that enables producers to provide total antibiotic usage data and, optionally, act as the full legal medicine book for the pig holding. eMB-Pigs is provided by AHDB Pork.

With use of AHDB’s eMB-Pigs compulsory for all Red Tractor assured pig producers from November 2017, ABN are working with customers to simplify recording and uploading of their in-feed antibiotic usage. Pig farmers have really been focusing on reducing their antibiotic usage, and ABN has noted a large drop via feed reports. To help our customers monitor and record purchases, ABN was emailing reports direct to producers, detailing purchases of in-feed medication. However, historically, for medicated feed to be recorded in eMB-Pigs, the data had to be manually entered by the producer into the database, which was time consuming for customers. We’re always striving to make data collection as efficient as possible, so we saw that the obvious next step was to develop the ability to transfer the reports that we provide, directly into eMB-Pigs on behalf of our customers. ABN collaborated with AHDB to allow customer reports to be automatically incorporated. Customers have commented on the timesaving benefits that this is going to make to the data collection process, so we are now promoting the service to all of our pig customers.

What else is on your radar that you are excited about right now?

I would say that people are always on my radar. By that I mean that people are at central to the industry and ABN’s business. Even in today’s digitally-focussed world, it is still important to have face-to-face interaction with customers. It’s one of the reasons that I look forward to attending events like the British Pig and Poultry Fair, as I’m able to spend time with customers and others in the industry.

As I’ve already mentioned, ABN is extremely passionate about developing new talent. It’s fantastic to be witnessing a changing demographic in the industry, with an increasing number of young people coming onboard. I always look forward to bringing new people with different skill sets into the industry and I truly believe that new talent is key in championing the value of technology in the farming industry.

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Bob Dixon is ABN’s national sales manager. With 25 years’ experience – 20 of which have been spent with ABN, the UK’s leading British Manufacturer of pig and poultry feed – Bob is extremely passionate about bringing people and ideas together to meet the challenges and needs of the pig industry.

Emily Houghton

Editor, The Pig Site

Emily Houghton is a Zoology graduate from Cardiff University and was the editor of The Pig Site from October 2017 to May 2020. Emily has worked in livestock husbandry, and has written, conducted and assisted with research projects regarding the synthesis of welfare and productivity of free-range food species.

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