Effective herd health planning can reduce production costs on UK pig farms and future-proof the sector against the fallout of significant restructuring in the Chinese pig industry.
Speaking at the Wales Pig and Poultry Event at Welshpool Livestock Market, pig industry expert Mick Sloyan predicted that UK pigmeat prices would remain strong for the next six months.
The improving pig price is due to African swine fever (ASF) in China, which has hit production by 25% and left a void in global supplies.
But the modernisation in China’s pig herd that could follow the crisis could pose a threat to UK production.
Cutting costs through monitoring, treating and preventing disease will be more important than ever, Mr Sloyan said.
“One of the biggest impacts on profitability is the health of your herd, if you have poor pig health, you have poor performance and your cost of production will be higher,” Mr Sloyan told farmers attending the joint Farming Connect and Menter Moch Cymru event.
“You need to be on top of your game. Herd health plans are a no-brainer, if you don’t plan for the health of your herd, you are taking an enormous risk.”
Menter Moch Cymru has launched a new scheme that provides financial support for pig farmers in Wales towards herd health planning.
If they meet certain criteria, they can access 80% funding towards an initial herd health plan, followed by further support for its review in subsequent years.
Mr Sloyan anticipated that modern, intensive production will likely displace farms in China that cannot afford good biosecurity and this may help the industry move closer towards self-sufficiency over the next decade.
While opportunities for exporters look good in the short-term, in the mid- to long-term, they may not be sustainable, he added.
This will impact on demand and price in the UK pig sector but forecasts for domestic consumption are buoyant.
To maintain their strong position going forward, Mr Sloyan urged pig producers to redouble progress already made in advancing herd health and biosecurity.
“We haven’t got ASF in the UK, but they have it in Belgium so it is getting closer.
“Therefore, biosecurity has to be a real priority to protect herds from that external threat.”
He said high welfare standards in UK pig production had helped pigmeat command and retain a price premium compared to European competitors that should not be compromised.
“Over the past three years, the UK average price premium has been 13p/kg compared with EU pigmeat and up to 20p/kg above Denmark and the Netherlands.
“UK producers haven’t just told retailers we need support because our product is British.
“They have presented a very strong case on all the qualities they are delivering, including welfare.
“This must be the case going forward through high herd health status on all pig units,” Mr Sloyan said.
Farming Connect and Menter Moch Cymru
Farming Connect and Menter Moch Cymru are funded by the Welsh Government Rural Communities – Rural Development Programme 2014-2020, which is funded by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development and the Welsh government.