18 September 1998

FABPigs give us the nod

AFTER many months of planning and hard work we are pleased to announce that with effect from Sept 7, the Easton Lodge pig unit is an approved member of the Farm Assured British Pigs Scheme (FABPigs).

We have been audited and received the certification from the Malton Foods Group Farm Quality Assurance Code for some time as contract producers to &#42 Hargrave & Co of Spalding. It became increasingly apparent however, that in the current climate we needed to be part of a national scheme recognised by everyone in the industry.

The other task of replacing our dry sow stall accommodation with loose housing has been continuing for more than 12 months. Naively, we thought we had until January 1999 to effect the change, but with pressure from large retailers on abattoirs to source meat solely from stall and tether-free units from as far back as July 1997, we have had to accelerate our programme of building and alterations.

A new straw yard for loose housing sows was finished last July at a cost of £25,000. Early this month, farm staff made a supreme effort and completed the conversion of the stall houses into cubicle houses. The budgeted cost of £10,000 for the alterations is for materials only and does not include farm labour.

Head stockman John Knighton worked with the bit between his teeth for a month without a break to finish the conversion ahead of schedule. Farrowing specialist Richard Pickard and students Richard Smith and Rebecca Wilde provided back-up and unit manager Jasper Renold masterminded the scheme by drawing up plans, ordering materials and acting as clerk of works and labourer as necessary.

Well done to all concerned. When the chips are down it is refreshing to know one has the backing of a first-class team.

If only our efforts could be rewarded by a decent return. Our contract price is based on the Adjusted Eurospec average (UK data) (AESA) price of 62.91p/kg this week plus a premium of 4p to a maximum probe of 14mm and a weight range of 60-85kg less 1.5p for offal disposal. In other words, 65.4p/kg.

Allied Livestock Marketing, which handles all our pigs, produces a standard analysis figure on the last page of their carcass record which on Aug 25 showed that over the preceding 52 weeks we had sold 7791 pigs at an average P2 of 11.9mm and 73.5kg dead weight. Of these 85% fell within the top two grades to command the premium price.

The average price per kg dead weight over the same period was 98.52p before deductions of levies, credit insurance and haulage.

Our forecast for this year shows a break-even price of 101p/kg after all salaries, rent, depreciation and private drawings making a loss of £14K in the 12 months to the end of August. The difference between the price received on Aug 25, 1998 compared with a year ago is 42.38p/kg. That marks a fall from a high of 114.05p to a low of 71.67p and it is still dropping.

Our financial year ends on Nov 30 and with 13 selling weeks to go, that loss looks set to increase dramatically; particularly when added to the fall in stock valuation at the year end.

As everyone who knows the pig industry will testify – thats pigs. The cyclic nature of the industry is well documented.

In the three years 1995-1997, we made average profits of £70,000 a year compared with losses averaging £17,000 a year between 1992-1994. Over time, we are still ahead of the game, but in common with all UK pig farmers we are feeling the pain at present.

A European surplus of pigmeat, the demise of the far eastern market and a strong £ have not helped. Worst of all, as the NFU points out to all those involved in the food chain, it is the significantly higher costs that British pig producers bear as a result of high welfare standards.

Fortunately, Easton Lodge has an integrated farming business of both arable and livestock enterprises. While the arable sector has been hard pressed to make profits over the past two years, we can at least make savings by spreading overheads across a larger business as well as using arable by-products such as straw and integrating pig manure into our fertiliser policies.

The original policy of adding value and introducing a variation of the golden hoof regime onto drought-prone, thin land, two years after taking the tenancy at Easton Lodge in 1966, was the brainchild of the-then editor of farmers weekly, Travers Legge.

Most farmers on the limestone brash around Stamford have sheep and some cattle but few have ventured into pigs. But all, I feel sure, will support us in the call to Buy British Pigmeat and to Put Pork on Your Fork. &#42