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UK Pigmeat Prospects are Good

by 5m Editor
11 December 2008, at 7:05am

EU - British pigmeat, long-term, remains a product with bright prospects compared to beef and lamb, despite current problems facing the sector, not least in Northern Ireland.

This upbeat view came from guest speaker Andrew Knowles, strategy co-ordinator at BPEX, when he addressed a seminar in Cookstown hosted by Devenish Nutrition.

“I’m going to stick my neck out and say that once we get through a difficult period lasting into early February pig producers will enjoy rising returns due to changes in the global market,” Andrew affirmed.

“Demand for poultry has plateaued and beef is a costly option at a time of economic recession when demand for pigmeat just keeps growing world wide. Through all your current difficulties just remember pigmeat remains the most popular meat globally.

“It is a very volatile global market where Chinese pigmeat prices have doubled in a year yet the Danish pig industry is in rapid decline as is the herd across much of Eastern Europe. By contrast here in the United Kingdom surviving pig units are mostly large and modern with the weak pound making imported produce less of a threat.

“The United Kingdom herd has fallen from 15 million a decade ago to the current nine million able to supply only 50 per cent of the pigment we as a nation consume. By the end of January there will be no cheap pigmeat left in the European Union hence United Kingdom producers, including those in Northern Ireland, should enjoy more realistic returns - vital after so months and years of hardship endured by producers.”

The platform party at an ‘Investing for Success’ seminar in Cookstown for pig producers. From left, chairman Michael Maguire and Owen Brennan, managing director Devenish Nutrition, with guest speakers Dr Violet Beattie, Devenish Nutrition and Andrew Knowles, BPEX.

Some of the producers who attended.

Andrew Knowles agreed that Northern Ireland producers do face particular problems due to sharing a land frontier with another European Union nation in the euro zone and having to pay higher prices for feeds. Asked why factory gate prices were lower here than 12 miles across the North Channel in Scotland he wryly noted that the province has only one large processing plant left.

“The global market has a huge impact on the price you as pig farmers get, but think of the positives on our home market. Go to Tesco for example and look at how much meat your wife can acquire for £5.

“Pigmeat wins by a long snout and is the best value source of protein in a family diet during this recession. At BPEX, which despite its title, now serves only producers in England, the aim is to improve animal welfare, food safety and product versatility.

“Our levy of 75p a pig from producers and 25p from processors generates over £7 million a year to help the sector, a sector where 41 per cent of English sows live out doors, but 97 per cent of their progeny are finished indoors, an industry where two producers each have over 26,000 sows, two foreign owned processors control 60 per cent of total United Kingdom slaughter capacity and just 35 farms produce over 50 per cent of pigs leaving English farms.”

Asked whether the smaller, mainly family units in Northern Ireland running hundreds rather than thousands of sows could survive, Andrew Knowles refused to be down beat.

“You have some very efficient units here, but United Kingdom-wide there is still room for a great improvement in physical performance. Just look at how far we lag behind the best farmers in the Low Countries and Germany.

“Now our production costs are never, ever going to be as low as the likes of Brazil, but surely we can match the Dutch, the Germans etc? Look at the amount of carcase meat produced per sow where the aim should be that elusive two tonne sow.

“Well, she is not so elusive in the Netherlands where the figure is 2300kg per sow compared to just 1536kg across the United Kingdom. So we need to up our on-farm physical performance and place our products in higher value, home-produced lines in shops and supermarkets.

“Let us also demand better labelling as regards pigmeat’s country of origin as has been achieved by the beef sector. Consumers deserve to know where the product was produced, not where it just happened to be packed.

“No, United Kingdom producers will never have a level playing field as regards animal welfare rules, but prospects two months from now will be a world away from current worries.

“Food looks set to become the new oil, essential to national security, and Northern Ireland remains home to a vibrant part of the United Kingdom pig industry so local producers who up their game as regards performance do have a good future.”

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