Posted 17 April 2013
The problem lies with a lack of confidence and therefore investment in the industry.
A monthly comment from a member of staff at Harper Adams University
Pig Unit Manager: Richard Hooper
“Despite recent headlines highlighting the decline in the national pig herd, there are still many positive stories to share and excellent career opportunities within the industry.
At Harper Adams we operate a 230-sow intensive breeding unit where pigs are kept indoors all of their lives. By doing this, we can teach students about commercial, highly efficient pig production and we also do this to remain competitive with the rest of the world.
When it comes to pig farming, you either have to be very efficient and cost effective in production, such as the unit at Harper Adams, or, be able to add a lot of value to the product.
Although it is the way in which we run our system, farmers don’t have to improve efficiency to be profitable – they can also look at different marketing routes such as high welfare and organic. 40% of the industry houses pigs outdoors and are involved in supply chains where the end product receives a premium for the system in which they’ve been produced.
As an industry, we have done ourselves a great injustice in the past 10 years because all that is seen in the media is negativity – we rarely champion our successes. The problem lies with a lack of confidence and therefore investment in the industry.
There is also the problem of money, and how to make a decent profit from pig farming. We aim to produce pigs for around £110 each and from this, make about £10 profit. It’s not a massive margin but by selling 6000 pigs a year there is a profit to be made.
The two biggest barriers that we face when it comes to being profitable are the cost of feed and the price of pig meat. Feed forms 60% of our costs and we have seen a 100% difference between the lowest and highest raw material prices. As for pig meat, this has also varied a lot over the past 10 years.
Welfare should always be considered when it comes to pig farming. Farrowing crates have received a lot of negative media coverage but at the moment, there is no viable alternative that is as good for piglet welfare. Without them, such as with free farrowing pens, research has shown that there can be up to 40% piglet mortality.
Sows can be in excess of 300 kilos and without the crates they can lie on the piglets in one movement and kill them. By using the farrowing crates this figure can be reduced to less than 10%.
If the demand for a British, Red Tractor Assured product increases, then the UK pig herd has an opportunity to grow but it needs to establish good, strong, sustainable supply chains to meet the demand.”
This comment is based on an interview with Richard for BBC Radio 4, Farming Today, aired Saturday, April 13.