Industry's new development centre opens next month

UK - When BPEX carried out its research and development review last year an early proposal was that the industry should have a new levy-funded bricks-and-mortar research unit, says the NPA's Digby Scott.
calendar icon 13 September 2006
clock icon 5 minute read

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.

But following consultation with producers it was agreed better value for money would be achieved by making more use of existing resources.

Spectacular progress has been made since then. A director of pig industry development has been appointed by BPEX, he has recruited a team to research and disseminate information, and numerous bread-and-butter research projects – the sort producers have been asking for – are now under way.

The next milestone in this roller-coaster ride to drag productivity up to Danish and Dutch levels will be next month when the English industry’s pig development centre will be opened.

The centre is a BPEX collaboration between two universities (both with pig units) and the Veterinary Laboratories Agency. The personalities involved are well-known in the industry:

  • Professor Sandra Edwards, Newcastle University.
  • Dr Helen Miller, Leeds University.
  • Dr Stan Done, Thirsk Veterinary Laboratories Agency (last year’s David Black Award winner).

They have three years of funding from BPEX to conduct applied research and development and to communicate research to all sectors of the pig chain. The centre, which will be based at Leeds, will be opened by James Paice, shadow secretary for agriculture, on Friday October 6.

In addition to its new development centre, the English industry now has a team of information sleuths based at Milton Keynes, whose role will be to get on farms, identify good ideas, and communicate them to the rest of the industry.

“They are working with vets to find farms that are doing particularly well and their task will be to identify what it is they are doing particularly well,” said director of pig industry development Mark Wilson.

“It might, for instance, be that they have a well-trained workforce or it might be that they have carried out necessary investment,” he told NPA’s allied industries committee yesterday.

The BPEX information transfer team will also be visiting farms that are performing poorly, where there may also be lessons to be learned and communicated to the wider industry.

“The Danes have 60 advisers – enough to go up individual farm drives. We have only five, so we will be going up a few farm drives and then getting the information disseminated to the industry at large.”

The knowledge transfer team is (left to right): Angela Cliff, reproduction; Kayt Johnnson, pig systems; Richard Bull, business systems; Helen Thody, southern region; Lisbeth Ravn, health.

In the past pig industry research has majored on projects that attract government funding. But that has all changed. “Today all the drivers are coming from the pig industry itself,” promised Mark Wilson. "And we’re attempting to solve problems immediately.”

Much of the information producers need to improve productivity is already available and it is just a case of identifying it and making it readily available, he said. “Through the use of knowledge transfer and the development and demonstration of existing ideas we should be able to address most issues.”

Only when these avenues don’t provide the necessary answers will it be necessary to carry out new research.

One cost-effective way to increase the industry’s research effort is to pay for ‘studentships’. PhD projects under way include:

  • Investigation of PMWS in pigs using theoretical and observational studies.
  • Increasing the slaughter weight of finished pigs.
  • Androstenone metabolism in the liver in relation to boar taint.
  • Nutrition of the weaned piglet.
  • The impact of disease on production in the GB pig industry.
Studentships are also to be offered for:
  • Assessment of animal welfare on British pig farms.
  • Genetics of litter size and foetal loss in pigs.
  • Improving the quality of British pork and bacon.
  • Does production environment affect the incidence of pig zoonoses?

An interesting three-month summer studentship poses the question: Can the British pig industry broaden the range of production categories that have consumer appeal beyond ‘outdoor’ by adopting novel systems to produce the next generation of premium label pork product?

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