JSR Conference Remains a Firm Industry Favourite

UK - The 24th annual JSR Farming Conference took place in York last week and was hailed by delegates as one of the best ever.
calendar icon 18 September 2013
clock icon 6 minute read

Providing the audience with a group of high merit speakers including consumer marketing experts and scientists along with shared research from key members of the JSR team, the conference has once again confirmed just how valuable an event it is to the UK pig industry calendar.

Over 150 delegates from across the industry descended on the Ron Cooke Hub at York University, a state-of-the-art conference venue, to take up the opportunity to network over topical issues and, above all, listen to a collection of first-class speakers.

The theme of ‘Applying Science to Develop Practical Solutions’ looked at ways in which producers and business owners can innovate in the quest for more profitable pork production.

Conference Chairman Dr Grant Walling, who is JSR’s Director of Science and Technology, opened the conference with a summary of issues that have affected the industry over the last twelve months – namely ‘Horse-gate’ and the first lab-reared piece of meat, which was a remarkable scientific achievement, but failed to inspire on taste tests.

Reminding the audience of JSR’s dual focus of ‘fit for farm, fit for fork’ he went on to say: “The consumer is the most important person in any supply chain and the horsemeat scandal shows that some parts of the industry have lost that vital connection with them.

Too often time is spent looking to squeeze an extra few pence out of the processor, and this can lead to breakdowns in the complex chain, which then leads to an erosion of trust as with the horsemeat scandal.”

Explaining the importance of delivering a high-quality product to the consumer, Dr Walling continued: “A truly great and successful product engages the public and this engagement creates demand – think of the electronic industry with the iPhone and the fashion industry with its designer handbags.”

The first speakers of the day were JSR’s Stephen Waite, Head of Technology Transfer, and Angus Chambers, Feeding Herd Manager, who together demonstrated the positive progress JSR is making genetically and commercially across the whole of the business.

Faced with cutting edge technologies and improvements on old ideas, Stephen explained how it is important to have a mechanism of assessment, so that JSR are able to decide which innovations should be integrated into its own business, which in turn will offer benefits to the consumer.

Mr Waite explained: “It is important to be an early adopter of innovation rather than being a part of the late majority, as if you are not innovating in this industry you are essentially not progressing. In some areas this industry has been laggards for far too long.”

With many pig producers struggling to fund the conversion of old farm buildings into state-of-the-art facilities, Mr Chambers explained how this is hampering the finishing efficiency of UK pig production:

“A mismatch of building types and feeding systems has historically meant that accurate data recording has been a difficult task at JSR. But with input from nutritionists and vets, as well as the drive and determination of the JSR team, productivity and efficiency is ever increasing.”

Science City York Chief Executive, Professor Nicola Spence talked about ‘The Innovation Pig’ and how a scientific approach can be used within problem solving. Challenges such as those brought about by a growing population will inevitably mean an increased demand for food, land, energy and other resources.

Businesses need to adapt and utilise the innovative people and ideas within their organisations.

Professor Spence shared with delegates how the ‘innovation piggies’ within her team are vital to the progression and profitability of Science City York, and creative people should be identified and encouraged in every business.

Giving an insight into European pig production, Dutch pig farmer, Hennie Smeenk, shared the story of his family farm and how it grew and evolved into a 21st century modern pig production unit.

Expanding from only 15 pigs, he now houses 1,000 sows and has entered into a partnership with Dutch company, De Heus, carrying out feed trials and offering international visits around his unit.

Speaking frankly about the struggles he and his family have faced over the years, Mr Smeenk also expressed how pig production has evolved on the continent and his thoughts for the future.

For the second year running, Ed Garner of Kantar Worldpanel wowed delegates with an impressive presentation of facts and figures, expertly delivered and appreciatively received.

With pressure on household budgets, delegates saw the evidence in numbers as to how foreign supermarket chains such as Aldi and Lidl, are profiting from consumers that are feeling the pinch.

Not surprisingly, following the horsemeat scandal, buying habits changed, demonstrating the consumers’ quest for traceable, certified meat products. However, months on these trends have slowly reverted back as ‘Horse-gate’ becomes more of a distant memory.

An array of figures and graphs, from extensive research demonstrated how household incomes were analysed to determine where shoppers were most likely to do their weekly shop or in contrast were least likely to make a purchase. In addition, the latest marketing strategies and messages adopted by the supermarket ‘Big 4’ were shared.

Closing the conference, Jim Brisby of Cranswick plc talked about how the UK needs to differentiate and compete in new ways to produce successful products. Emphasis was placed on the need for transparent, sustainable supply chains that give the consumer confidence and encourage stable buying habits.

Mr Brisby delivered information on consumption trends and coping strategies and how the need for food security is imperative to avoid supply chain failures in the future, even when the consumer is under financial pressure.

Dr Grant Walling was delighted with the turnout at the event and explained how he hoped the delegates would take away ideas and ensure that they help produce products that are fit for the farm and fit for fork.

“Given the challenges we have seen in the meat supply industries over the last 12 months, it was important this year, more than ever, that we had speakers to provoke innovative concepts accessible to the pork supply chain and I am satisfied that the conference did exactly that,” concluded Dr Walling.

The line-up of high-calibre speakers at the 24th annual JSR Farming Conference. From left: Professor Nicola Spence, Stephen Waite, Ed Garner, Jim Brisby, Angus Chambers, Dr Grant Walling and Hennie Smeenk.

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