JSR Evaluates 2011 as Year of Agricultural Revolution

25 November 2011, at 12:00am

This year's Annual JSR Technical Conference proposed that this year was one of revolution in the agricultural industry. Jackie Linden, senior editor of ThePigSite, reports on the event.

Change and how the industry can best manage and adapt to it was the theme of this year's Technical Conference, organised by genetics company, JSR – the 22nd in the series.

Adjusting to Change in the Canadian Pork Industry

Lee Whittington

President/CEO of the Prairie Swine Centre, Lee Whittington, made the first presentation at this year's meeting, outlining the state of the pig industry in Canada.

He explained that the Canadian pork industry is undergoing a significant restructuring due to economic and political factors. These include exchange rates with the US dollar, increasing feed prices, ethanol policy, country of origin labelling (COOL), and a world-wide recession that reduced meat consumption in traditional markets.

The net result has been a decrease in the Canadian sow herd of more than 20 per cent from its peak in 2005. The adjustments to the income statement and balance sheet have been painful, said Mr Whittington, regardless of the size of pork producer, and the ripple effect has had significant ramifications for all aspects of the service industry including investment in research.

He said: "We are facing some short-term challenges. The future is all about change."

The adjustments to the psyche of the industry have been equally profound as many professional careers have been built entirely during the growth period of the past 25 years.

After outlining the current Canadian situation, Mr Whittington focused on research results and the value that Prairie Swine Centre research brings to the commercial pork industry.

The Centre focuses on the practical things for the industry, such as energy costs, as well as new areas, like nanoparticles added to slurry to reduce hydrogen sulphide.

Mr Whittington summed up the Centre's work, saying: "Our purpose is to ask the right questions and not create the future."

He concluded that the Canadian pig industry has capacity to grow because of the low cost of production there but profitability has been erratic due to volatility in feed and energy costs.

What are our Major Challenges in Feeding Pigs in a Changing Market Place

Mick Hazzledine

"What do we know and what do we need to know?" asked Mick Hazzledine of Premier Nutrition at the start of his presentation.

In the last 35 years, we have seen a gradual evolution in the way in which we feed and manage our pigs, he said.

Feed ingredients available to us for pig feeding have changed and will continue to change. For example, rapeseed meal is a much improved and better defined home-produced protein, which is being fed at inclusion rates of up to 15 per cent, offering savings of 25p to 60p per per-cent inclusion in the diet.

The availability of pulses – mainly peas and beans – remains limited but they would certainly be used if offered at an attractive price.

With Ensus in full production, 0.35mt of dried distillers grains and solubles (DDGS) are available to the UK feed market and this is set to double when the Vivergo plant at Hull is on-stream. Mr Hazzledine said that potentially, DDGS is an ingredient that we could use in pig feeds although it commands a greater financial value in ruminant feeds.

The supply of products from the biodiesel industry – expeller rapeseed meal and glycerol – is currently limited but both these products can be used in pig feeds. Glycerol is particularly interesting in that it improves pig performance.

In terms of additives, enzymes are now well established (cereal enzymes and phytases), he said, while acids, probiotics and yeast products can all be useful in some circumstances.

The biggest change we have seen is not in the type of ingredients available to us, but in their price volatility, according to Mr Hazzledine. This has resulted in both pig producer and nutritionist having to develop a far greater understanding of commodity markets, the relative values of commodities, and strategies to reduce risk from adverse commodity price movements.

Our understanding of the nutrient requirements of pigs has certainly improved, he continued, although there remain challenges. Performance beyond 90kg live weight varies markedly from farm to farm with genetics and stocking density being major factors. Furthermore, determining the optimum feed regime for a population of pigs – as distinct from a single pig – remains problematical.

Increased prolificacy demands that sows receive increased nutrient intakes; feed intake in lactation is crucial, he said.

Our understanding of the interactions between disease and nutrition remain in their infancy.

Strategies to reduce the nitrogen and phosphorus output from piggeries are now well developed, said Mr Hazzledine, but conflicts can arise. He cited the use of increased quantities of rapeseed meal and DDGS, which will reduce soybean meal usage but it will increase nitrogen excretion.

Regrettably, the level of recording of physical data on UK farms is still, in many cases, poor, alleged Mr Hazzledine. However, without some idea of feed intake and growth rate at the various stages of growth, feed specifications cannot be customised to the farm and profit will not be maximised, he said.

With regard to pig nutrition beyond 2011, then evolution is more likely then revolution, according to Mr Hazzledine.

He said: "We need to continue to apply sound science and good practice.

"It is hard though, not to see commodity price fluctuation as the greatest challenge for us all. We are all acquiring a new set of skills!" he concluded.

Packington Pork: The Story so Far

Rob Mercer

Packington Pork has been producing outdoor and free-range pigs since 2003, said Rob Mercer, although the Mercer family has been in pig production for four generations. The company now sells around 1,400 pigs per week, mainly to butchers. Because the land is free-draining, there is grass coverage in the paddocks almost all year.

He described the development of the Packington Pork business – where it came from, what it is today and how he would like to see it in the future, covering the key factors which contribute to making the pig business successful, as well as where I feel the industry should focus, to improve the overall viability of the UK pig industry.

He gave an outline of the whole family business, and went through a few things he thinks they do differently from other farms. He identified these as management coaching, succession planning, responsibility sharing, farm ownership and external input.

One of the keys, he said, is the all-important five-year plan, which is broken down to give quarterly targets. Staff appraisals are carried out every three months at Packington Pork but Mr Mercer described staff bonus schemes as a "mixed blessing".

New schemes that have been applied recently and been successful include buying in weaners from a single source, early weaning (which has boosted numbers born alive) and better knowledge of nutrition has helped improve FCR.

Looking ahead for the industry, Mr Mercer stressed the importance of maintinaing the advantage over the EU industry, including a continuation of the use of processed animal protein (meat and bone meal) in feed because, he says, consumers do not want it. He also sees benefits in the maintenance of a multi-production-system industry, supplying organic, free-range and Freedom Foods options for consumers.

Mr Mercer concluded: "Will 2011 be the next agricultural revolution? Maybe it will, maybe it won't but there is certainly huge opportunity in the farming industry and specifically the pig sector. With great potential though also comes great risk and managing that risk will be the key."

Revolutionising Global Pork Production

Dr Grant Walling

Dr Grant Walling was appointed Managing Director of JSR Genetics earlier this year. In his presentation, he focused first on the Foresight report – The Future of Food and Farming: Challenges and choices for global sustainability from The Government Office for Science in London. It illustrates some challenging goals for global agriculture, he said. Whilst highlighting a continual problem of world hunger on a macro and micro scale as well as unsustainable current farming methodology, it urges the need to move to sustainable intensification through 'climate-smart' agriculture.

For world pork production, this means an increase in output of 110 per cent over the next 40 years, which is unlikely to be achievable in high output units in the Western world but much more achievable in some of the largest pig population in growing agricultural economies, according to Dr Walling.

He sees the biggest challenge as the sharing of best practice from intensive developed systems with these future food providers. Novel technologies such as cloning and genetic modification (GM) are unlikely to be so easily dismissed by these newer entrants to world food production hence European technophobes, militant welfarists and single interest groups will have to revise and reinvent their philosophies based on sustainable agricultural output rather than romantic ideals of modern farming based on outdated prejudices of farming.

This is achievable, concluded Dr Walling, but it must be based around scientific sustainable goals and systems output per facility, unit area or consumption of resources. Such strategies are slow at being adapted but will become more commonplace with global changes over the next 40 years.

Finally turning his attention to the UK pig industry, Dr Walling expects that indoor producers will need to make efficiency an even greater focus, while welfare outcomes – rather than production systems – as well as sustainability will become more important for the industry.

Organic Manures – Waste Product or Valuable Asset?

Philip Huxtable

From the outset of his presentation, it was clear that Philip Huxtable, Technical Director of JSR, made it clear that he sees a significant value and huge potential in manure.

He suggested that, 25 years ago, JSR was guilty as were most farmers of dealing with their organic manures as a waste product to be 'dumped' on sacrifice areas and got rid of, with little or no regard to the environment or its fertiliser value.

Today, after over 20 years of incorporating science into the storage, application and utilisation of organic manures, he said the company's 'Liquid and Solid Gold' – as he describes slurry and manure – is a very valuable fertiliser source in terms of both cost savings and increasing yield.

In recent years, he continued, this value has increased significantly with the steep increases in manufactured fertiliser prices. In 2010, JSR applied more than 12,000,000 gallons of slurry and 14,000 tonnes of farmyard manure (FYM) in East Yorkshire.

In a series of slides, Mr Huxtable described the JSR arable business, and how the group treats, stores and applies both solid and liquid fractions and how this all fits in with aspects of Precision Farming. He went on to quantify the financial savings to be made – an estimated £235,000, based on preliminary figures.

Mr Huxtable identified as future challenges legislation, manufactured fertiliser costs, the investment required to utilise organic manures and finally, the importance of slurry stores covers to prevent dilution by rainwater and the collection of leaves, which can block pumps.

With 3,500 sows and progeny, "it is no wonder that the arable business views JSR's pig units as 'fertiliser factories'!" concluded Mr Huxtable.

November 2011