5 April 2002

No panacea, but it provides stability

NORFOLK pig farmer Rob Mutimer says the Link contract he has with Dalehead and Waitrose has given his 500-sow unit stability and helped it survive the pig industrys latest crises, but it has not guaranteed profit.

About 90% of Mr Mutimers production – 160 pigs, weighing between 60-85kg deadweight – are sold to Dalehead every week.

"The Link contract is the first pig contract that is an integrated marketing system involving PIC, producers, Dalehead and Waitrose," says Mr Mutimer, who serves on the Link committee.

He does not believe it is a panacea that prevents business failure, although it has given him the confidence to reinvest in his unit during a difficult period.

"Over the past three years, costs of production have risen due to foot-and-mouth, swine fever and pig-wasting diseases. The Waitrose contract has been supportive during these times, giving some much needed confidence to members.

"It is a good thing that all parties within the shortened supply chain are talking to each other and increasing their understanding of what needs to be done at all levels to improve the quality of the final product sold in Waitrose stores," he says.

Mr Mutimer reckons most producers will stick with the contract, although some of the changes instigated by Waitrose and Dalehead have led to radical alterations in some members production methods. "We have had to move to specific genetic stock lines and change to using 100% artificial insemination, which has required significant investment. Some producers have also had to switch breeding companies, which has been a very difficult decision for them to make.

"The contract is not suitable for everyone because members have to accept changes and lose a degree of control over their own businesses.

"However, it does offer positive opportunities for our pig unit in the future and, hopefully, a way forward for all parties in the marketing chain." &#42