Is there any hope for Danish producers?


PEET ON PIGS The top 25 per cent of producers in Denmark already produce around 30 pigs weaned per sow but the goal is now 35

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The recently published 2011 Annual Report of the Danish Pig Research Centre starts with a cry of woe on behalf of the country’s producers, who have suffered five straight years of losses.

In the preface — entitled “Is there any hope?” — Lindhardt Nielsen, chairman of the Danish Agriculture and Food Council’s Pig Production Board, and Nicolaj Nørgaard, the research centre’s director, express their wish that European production will fall and push up prices. They point out the traditional pig cycle has been replaced by more stable production, but note Danish banks have largely chosen to support unprofitable production for long periods in the hope of better days ahead.

“All in all, it is a war of attrition in which pig producers as well as lenders participate, even though quick winding up may sometimes be a better solution for all parties,” say Neilsen and Nørgaard.

High feed prices have been the main reason for the pain felt by Danish producers. However, the banks get a second hefty dose of blame in the report, which says “Credit facilities and the willingness to invest have been extremely limited since the financial crisis in 2008. Investments are estimated to be one-third of the normal level, which is obviously not a sustainable situation in the long run.”

Despite these challenges, it is noted that Denmark had among the highest pig prices in Europe which, combined with very high productivity, helped producers to do better than those in many other countries.

Against this background, what is the future for the Danish industry? First, Neilsen and Nørgaard could well get their wish of reduced production in the EU, although probably not until at least 2013, when a proportion of EU producers is expected to quit rather than convert their sow stalls to group housing. But the size and speed of the exodus will depend on how strictly the legislation on group housing — which comes into effect on January 1, 2013 — is enforced. It is not in the Danish psyche to sit and wait for someone else to solve their problems, so, as ever, producers are doing whatever it takes to improve their situation and remain world leaders in pig production. Perhaps not surprisingly, the theme of the Pig Research Centre’s 2011 annual meeting, attended by more than 1,000 producers, was “Stay in the Lead.”

Research priority

A key part of the Danes’ strategy is investment in research, with the Pig Research Centre employing 155 people and having a budget of $43 million. The annual report shows that by applying the results of that research, including the organization’s swine-breeding program, producers have scored annual improvements in productivity. And unlike the production data from many other countries, which is limited or unrepresentative, the Danish figures are from 749 sow farms with a total of 460,000 sows, 637 weaner farms with a total of 9.4 million weaners and 815 finisher farms with a total of 4.8 million pigs.

“Sow farms weaned an average of 28.1 pigs per sow/year, which is an increase of 0.6 pigs a year compared with last year,” notes the report. The average sow farm in Denmark now has 615 sows, indicating the rapid consolidation that has gone on in the industry.

Since the genetic improvement program changed its focus away from pigs born alive per litter to the number of piglets surviving to five days of age (called the LP5), the annual improvement has averaged 0.4 pigs per year. This change is helping producers to reduce stillbirth and mortality levels.

“In 2001, when LP5 was introduced in the breeding objective, piglet mortality averaged 21 per cent and 23 per cent of all piglets born in the first parity of Landrace and Large White sows, respectively,” states the report. “By 2011, these figures had decreased to an average of 15.1 per cent and 16.9 per cent for newborn piglets of the two breeds. Mortalities are based on the overall number of piglets born, which also includes stillborn piglets.”

With the top 25 per cent of producers in Denmark producing around 30 pigs weaned per sow, one of the major research projects is called “35 Weaned Piglets per Sow/Year.” It is looking at every aspect of management and the pigs’ environment to develop recommendations for producers and includes work on farrowing crate design, sow nutrition and management. Four demonstration farms are being used to measure the impact of applying changes in management on piglet mortality and overall productivity. The regular advisers who visit the farms are supported by an expert group of 14 advisers specialized in farrowing management. This group has produced a manual called Guidelines for Farrowing Facilities, which includes 29 fact sheets that describe best practice management. These are updated regularly in response to the research findings and available online for all producers.

The Danes view their research program as an essential investment in the future. Not only does it help them to improve productivity, it also allows them to continually improve the quality of the pork they produce and meet the strict animal welfare, food safety and environmental regulations they have to contend with. And because the research program is determined by a board of producers, it is focused on their practical objectives, which means the resulting information is applied rapidly on the farm.

The annual report is available in English at www.pigresearchcentre.dk

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