I write this sat at Hamburg Airport as the group I’m with fires off the long list of memorable things they have seen since yesterday dinnertime. Where have we been? And who with?
In my last column, I reflected on the value of study tours, and again we have been on a fact-finding mission to gather the latest information to enhance our staff knowledge and skills. Hopefully this trip will make a direct impact on our industry.
A small group of us from the buildings and environment and innovation teams have, along with three pig production lecturers from educational establishments with piggeries, been to Landwirtschaftskammer Schleswig-Holstein Futterkamp. Where, you may ask?
I seem to recall arable lectures where Schleswig-Holstein was something to do with growing wheat. Futterkamp is, in fact, an agricultural college in northern Germany that educates farmers of the future, conducts pig and dairy research and has a fully functioning pig unit.
Many different systems run side by side as a real life demonstration facility open to farmers and, on special days, the public.
Equipment manufacturers and suppliers actively participate, fitting out rooms alongside those of their competitors. Possibly the best example was the farrowing section – within one room there are two pairs of conventional farrowing crates and two pairs of free farrowing pens from four different suppliers, all with pigs in them.
We were told we needed a full day, and we certainly did. The staff who showed us round were excellent and must have received more questions than a group of three-year-olds could come up with! The exchange was very much two-way though.
Sitting alongside the production facilities is a large building given over to suppliers for them to showcase their products – a mini Pig Fair. This is open once a month for farmers to visit, with special opening days for pigs or cattle.
If you are looking to make changes or new investment on your unit, this is brilliant. Although everything is in German, numbers and illustrations can be understood. As for students, their lectures are going to be refreshed and, we are told, full of photos, while housing will be given a new emphasis.
Facilities such as Futterkamp are really valuable. I recall travelling to the National Agricultural Centre at Stoneleigh on a ‘Happy Days’ bus to go round the dairy, pig and sheep units and visit the Farm Electric Centre to hear about the latest in hay drying (almost unthinkable now) and collect inspirational content.
We don’t have facilities such as Futterkamp in the UK. It would be nice, although our industry is probably not large enough – 9 million slaughter pigs against 60 million in Germany.
But Hamburg is just a 90-minute flight away, and we all agreed that, if you get the chance to visit, you should take it.