Magherafelt, co londonderry
Anyone wondering why, despite poor returns and burdensome environmental legislation, there is still a relatively thriving pig industry in Northern Ireland need look no further than Livestock Adviser of the Year finalist Mark Hawe.
As a pig technologist working with farmers in Co Tyrone and Co Fermanagh on all aspects of commercial pig production, there is no doubt Mark is the driving force behind making change in many pig businesses.
“My focus is on helping farmers improve the management of their pig units by improving adoption of new technologies and understanding of new regulation. Much of the work in the past few years has involved helping farmers understand nitrate vulnerable zone and integrated pollution prevention and control rules.
“For some farmers this may mean being on farm twice a year whereas for others, where there is ongoing work, it may mean being with them once a week. This is particularly true when we’re working on a new project.”
And while much of Mark’s work has focused on the practical issues surrounding pig-keeping, one of his most demonstrable successes has come in establishing the Pig Benchmarking Project six years ago. “This programme involves commercial pig farmers, covering about a third of the Northern Irish herd, submitting physical and financial performance data from their businesses, with help given to ensure the data are accurate and relevant.
“These data are then analysed to provide a breakdown of key physical and financial perfomance indicators.”
As the instigator of the scheme, it is clearly something Mr Hawe is keen to see progress and expand and he spends a good deal of time helping farmers understand and interpret the results to help move their businesses forward.
“Initially many of them were reticent about sharing the information. But, over time, they’ve seen the value of it and spend a lot of time studying the figures to see where they can improve. One area many of them are interested in is pig health and, while I’m not a vet and so don’t give vet advice, comparing where money is being spent on vet and medicine inputs has helped many of them drive out unnecessary costs.”
Ever keen to help farmers use modern technology to boost their businesses, Mark has also helped develop an online comparison tool for farmers to compare their latest slaughter data. “This isn’t so much about comparing with other farmers, but comparing current slaughter stock with previous batches to see where changes in genetics or feed stocks have impacted on pig performance and farm profits.”
Working with the Department for Agriculture and Rural Development in Northern Ireland has also enabled Mark to have some influence on both policy and research topics. “Thankfully, I’m able to pass back the farmer’s viewpoint to legislators and help make regulation more fit for purpose, and I can also help direct research at the Agri Food and Biosciences Institute to address the main problems facing farmers in day-to-day pig-keeping. All of this means farmers are able to operate more rationally and, hopefully, more profitably.”
But working with farmers is where Mark’s heart lies and it’s no surprise to learn he’s often found organising evening meetings on relevant topics. “Recently we’ve been experimenting with new technology and have organised video link-ups with a pig health expert in Australia. There was no way we could have got his knowledge otherwise and the farmers were able to sit in a room and quiz him as if he were there in person.
“Alongside that I’ve also been organising courses for foreign workers to learn basic pig management, working with a translator to help them understand the essentials of pig farming.”
As a final string to his bow, Mark has been involved since its inception with Progressive Lean Pigs, a pig buying and marketing group. “I don’t get involved with contract negotiations, but I do advise on what different contract terms will mean for profits and help farmers meet specification, as the group works with a number of different processors, so matching pigs to processor requirements is essential.”
What the judges liked
- Proactive approach to pig management
- Interacting with whole supply chain
- Encourages uptake of new technologies
- Influences policy and research
- Specialist Pig Adviser
- One of two DARD pig advisers
- Buying group consultant