ASF signals profit potential, but provenance will secure long-term prospects
If predictions are correct, then the next five years could prove very profitable for the UK pig sector, writes independent pig sector journalist Jane Jordan.
The African Swine Fever (ASF) epidemic currently sweeping through China and the Far East is creating a massive global pork shortage, and pig prices are rocketing. Opportunity knocks for established pig industries and it’s a welcome diversion from Brexit uncertainties.
Market analysts are forecasting lower feed prices going forward too, which, combined with sustained global pigmeat prices, will bring a much-needed investment to Europe’s pressured pig sector. These are extraordinary times, unprecedented, but the situation also shows how ‘globalised’ food and agribusiness has become and how an uncontrolled, incurable disease can create extreme volatility in major international supply chains.
ASF has claimed at least 50 per cent of China’s pig population and Vietnam has recently confirmed that almost 3 million pigs – 10 per cent of its national herd – have been culled. The virus is now reported in Cambodia, Laos, Mongolia, and North Korea. Thailand is desperate to keep it out of its pig industry and has ratified a government funded prevention, control and eradication plan costing US $4.7m (148.5m baht). Ministers here say an ASF epidemic of Chinese proportions could cost the country more than US $1.1 billion (35.28 billion baht).
This virus is denting economies, too. China’s National Bureau of Statistics reported a Consumer Price Index of 2.7 per cent in May 2019 – the highest level for more than a year, with inflation at 18 per cent and food prices up 7.7 per cent for the same period. These trends mirror escalating pork prices and are set to continue well into 2020.
Dutch-based financier Rabobank estimates China’s pork deficit to be at least 16m metric tonnes by the end of the year 2019, which will have significant impact on international meat markets and consumer trends. Global market analyst GIRA director, Richard Brown, agrees. Revised projections for 2019 now forecast a 24 per cent drop in Chinese pork production, a shortfall that could amount to 13mt. GIRA believes the Asian pork deficit could exceed 20mt during the next two years.
Speaking at key sector conference ‘Pigs Tomorrow’, Mr Brown said ASF was ‘a very big deal’ that was shaping global economics. China and Asia were rapidly sucking in imports of all meats as consumers were switching from high-priced pork to cheaper poultry products and beef.
“This disease crisis is bigger than BSE, which massively influenced the British and global meat market for all species for almost 15 years,” he said.
Established pig industries, such as those in the US, Europe and potentially Russia and South America, will profit from the global pork shortage – there is money to be made but for how long?
China is already rebuilding its pig sector; health and biosecurity are taking precedence and its domestic supply chain will be more robust and much more efficient going forward. Expansion and self-sufficiency are primary objectives and those that want to secure viable trade links here and other Pacific Rim markets will have to differentiate their offering.
Dutch Meat Association (COV) director of international affairs, Frans van Dongen, said before the ASF crisis the potential for niche/premium pork products offering provenance, high welfare and environmental credentials, was considerable and this was unlikely to change.
EU pork exports for first quarter 2019 have been strong, with trade up 5 per cent in January and February. The market’s reacted positively to Chinese demand, but this is only a peak in an export trade that’s seen steady growth for the past ten years.
“EU production is rising, but not because of continental demand. The trend’s a response to global trade, and that will continue to be a key component of Europe’s pigmeat market, going forward,” he said.
Internally, it’s a different story with markets being in flux for several years. Danish, Dutch and German pig sectors have seen enormous rationalisation, with diminishing profits and rising costs against a back drop of increased legislation and falling meat consumption. Only Spain’s highly integrated industry has flourished and continues to drive growth.
“Germany might be Europe’s largest pig producer, but it’s reached a ceiling and production’s in decline. Unlike Spain, where volume production’s increasing at around 900,000t a year with no signs of change,” said Mr van Dongen.
COV statistics show an 18 per cent rise in Spanish production for 2018, up 500,000t on 2017 figures, while Germany’s Agricultural Market Information Company (AMI) reports a 3 per cent drop in finisher numbers, a 5 per cent reduction in weaners and a static breeding herd for the same period. AMI figures now rank Spain as Europe’s largest clean pig processor, with 14.2m carcases processed during the first quarter of this year, up 4.1 per cent on the previous year. Germany processed 13.9m slaughter pigs, and recorded a 4.2 per cent reduction in volume.
“Growth and stagnation will continue inside Europe’s single market and its pig sector will need a thriving export trade to ‘balance trade’ and stay profitable,” said Mr van Dongen.
He believes greater collaboration between producers and processors will help EU pig businesses deliver robust, transparent supply chains and improve sustainability. Upscaling production to meet short-term external/global market demands is sensible, but UK and European producers must also embrace societal demands if they want to protect export interests and grow global market share.
New piglet coccidiosis and iron injection available
The first patented toltrazuril and gleptoferron combination for injection for piglets in the UK has been launched by Bayer.
The new product will help prevent both coccidiosis and iron deficiency, with the added benefits of reducing handling time and stress.
Baycox Iron (36 mg/ml toltrazuril plus 182 mg/ml gleptoferron) is now available for farmers to purchase via their vet.
Fraser Claughton, Bayer UK/IE commercial manager, explains coccidiosis and iron deficiencies are two major concerns for pig producers.
“Because of this, piglets generally go through intense handling to treat against both these issues, shortly after being born. While this is important for the best start in life, it can cause stress to the animal.
“However, the combination therapy offered in Baycox Iron can effectively address both of these concerns, while reducing the need for some handling at this crucial time, which can make a significant improvement to piglet health and welfare,” he said.
Peter Woodhall, who runs a 240-sow unit in West Shropshire, said coccidiosis prevention has significantly boosted the performance of his herd while a dual treatment which also tackles iron deficiency would improve farm efficiency.
“Any opportunity to cut down handling will save both time and labour for us, freeing us up to focus on other work, with the added benefit of cutting down piglet stress, which we find can be very high during the early stages,” he added.
Supplies for keeping units clean
Suffolk-based Aquajet Cleaning Equipment offers a range of cleaning equipment with depots across Suffolk and London and a dealer network throughout the UK.
The company can provide equipment and cleaning products in the UK for the home, office, farming, industrial and for commercial use.
It particularly specialises in cleaning chemicals for the transport and farming industry, and has a full range of valeting and maintenance products,”says the business. It sells valeting supplies to the retail and trade through its area sales teams, online and from retail shops.
The company also supplies through many buying associations for the farming industry and can offer quotations for pressure washers, floor scrubbing machines or Sweepex brooms.
50 years of showing pigs celebrated
Celebrations at the Royal Norfolk Show in late June included 50 years of showing pigs at the Norfolk and Suffolk shows for commercial breeder and pig ring commentator Peter Mortimer. Mr Mortimer was presented with a sash commemorating his achievement and he donated £50 as prize money to the exhibitor with the best pig pen presentation of the Show to mark the occasion.
Mr Mortimer initially bred pedigree pigs before moving into commercials in 1975. Although not from a farming background he knew from an early age that he wanted to be a pig farmer. “My father was a vet in the Harleston area of Norfolk and I used to travel round with him and that’s when I decided what I wanted to do.” Despite tragedy hitting in 2014 when a disease outbreak forced him to slaughter out and start again, he wasn’t tempted to give up. “Even though I was by then a pensioner and someone questioned the decision to carry on, I decided I had to keep going. I think there must be pigs in my blood,” he added.