The British pig industry’s dilemma...

by 5m Editor
10 September 2004, at 12:00am

UK - Returns for British pig producers have been uncertain for so long that even large well-run enterprises with a substantial arable buffer behind them can only afford to renew worn out buildings at a cautious pace.


National Pig Association

NPA is active on members' behalf in Brussels & Whitehall, and with processors, supermarkets & caterers - fighting for the growth and pros-perity of the UK pig industry.

This was vividly demonstrated when a team of Defra officers visited a 600-sow farrow-to-finish unit in the heart of Lincolnshire this week. The unit, which was bought eight years ago, presented a graphic picture of the advantages of modern buildings compared to those that, in an ideal world, would have been replaced some years ago.

Owner John Godfrey was at pains to show both sides of the picture: so Defra staff were invited to look round not only the airy 1997 dry-sow house and the new grower house, but also the finisher houses, some of which have yet to be replaced.

He explained that although many thousands of pounds were being invested in this unit every year, with the next tranche costing around quarter of a million pounds, it was impossible in the current climate to carry out all the work that one would wish to.

This visit highlighted the dilemma facing nearly all British producers. As a general rule productivity can only be improved by investing in new buildings, and yet it is far from clear whether a prudent pig business can afford to invest sufficiently to bring productivity of the national herd up to levels required to compete with the best of the continental producers.

The point is demonstrated all the more forcefully at John Godfrey's units because they are part of the LincPork supply chain which uses bespoke genetics to produce large-hammed continental-looking pigs for Lincolnshire processor Geo Adams' premium markets.

The message to retailers, legislators and administrators alike, therefore, must be that the British pig industry remains on a knife-edge and lower prices or increased costs could tip it over the edge.

"It isn't research and development we are lacking, but the resources and confidence to invest in a very difficult industry during very difficult times," said John Godfrey.

But despite the difficulties, the Godfrey 600-sow unit near Louth, Lincolnshire, had a success story to tell with manager Chris Jackson reporting that the change to five-week batch production, although involving considerable effort and discipline, was having the desired effect in terms of better health and improved productivity.

John Godfrey, the pioneer of five-week production in Britain, confirmed that five units had now been converted to five-week batching, in the space of just eighteen months. Health had improved, he said, and had been further boosted by what appeared to be a general improvement throughout the industry over the past six months, probably as a result of PMWS "settling down".

NPA's Ian Campbell said he too had noticed generally better health in recent months. "I think the problems caused by PMWS prompted producers to go back to basics and that this is now having a beneficial effect."

Members of the Defra group were keen to understand the nuts and bolts of pig production, as this would help put into perspective their respective roles which include overall pig policy, welfare, regulation strategy (looking at the cumulative regulatory burden and farmers' perception of regulation) and the design of future welfare schemes (including the proposed livestock disease levy and consequential loss insurance).

Duncan Prior, head of pigs, eggs and poultry in Defra's livestock products division, said one of the reasons for the visit was for people in the department to be well briefed on the pressures facing pig producers, which in turn would put them in a better position to be helpful to the industry, as had been the case with the recent issue over tagging of pigs for non-slaughter movement from holding of birth.

For his part John Godfrey said that although these days practically all new legislation was initiated by Brussels rather than Defra, the growing burden was becoming untenable. He cited over 30 recent consultations and more than 40 tranches of legislation impacting on producers, such as IPPC, animal by-products and nitrate vulnerable zones.

And he listed some of the voluntary initiatives that also swallowed up administrative time, such as Assured British Pigs, LEAF (Linking Environment and Farming) and UFAS (Universal Feed Assurance Scheme) membership.

Before visiting a pig unit, the party was shown round the Godfrey feed mill which supplies all the company's pig units and also some external customers. John Godfrey explained that all the feed from the mill was GM-free, which earned a small premium from Geo. Adams. The soya used by the mill could be traced back to individual GM-free producers in Brazil.

The modern mill, built in 1988, is away from any of the pig units to avoid any biosecurity doubts in the minds of external customers. It produces nine diets with rarely changed formulations, which John Godfrey said benefited pig performance.

As all rations were made to order it was possible to make changes in health-additives and pellet size quickly. Antibiotic growth promoters (due to be banned at the end of next year) were no longer used in the diets, he said.

All incoming loads were sampled for quality, said mill manager Andrew Adam - and, yes, it wasn't unheard of for a load of wheat from their own farms to be rejected.

Safety and quality checks involved sampling of every batch of feed produced, dispersion tests on mixer efficiency, testing for salmonella in products entering and leaving the mill, and regular checking of all monitoring and analysing equipment.

This productive Defra visit concluded with a visit to a large field of wheat being harvested, where Duncan Prior and his colleagues had the chance of riding the combine. To finish the day an unsuspecting tractor driver engaged in the Lincolnshire pastime of high-speed grain-leading succeeded in taking ten years of his life by coming round the corner on a farm track to confront the Defra officials and John Godfrey, who was driving his new pride-and-joy Audi.

The following day the Defra party visited Geo. Adams to see a modern cutting plant and slaughterhouse, which had not only has a new carcass splitter but also the first British AutoFom which predicts the lean meat in an each part of the carcass, and to hear a successful, expanding English processor's views on the supply chain, warts and all.

Source:By Digby Scott, National Pig Association - 10th September 2004

5m Editor