Mike Sheldon chairs the AHDB Pork board. He is also chairman of Red Tractor pigs, a role he is due to step down from in November
One of the key conditions for the long-term sustainability of the UK pig sector is the continuing growth of our pork exports.
This growth is one of the greatest success stories for us in recent times, most recently evidenced by the additional approvals of further plants for export to China – this success doesn’t just happen.
Our colleagues in government have been essential, and excellent, in fulfilling their roles as the competent authority in negotiating market access. Marcus Bates, known to many from his work at the British Pig Association, and his colleagues, also play a vital role.
The major UK processors have been excellent at having the courage and tenacity to invest in building contacts and orders in their receiving markets. This takes huge effort on the part of a relatively small number of people.
However, I hope you will forgive me for banging the drum in support of my own colleagues at AHDB. This team of titans are the glue that holds the whole operation together.
They are constantly anticipating and resolving problems and clearing hurdles. They put in the hard yards to make things happen and keep believing in the mission, even when the odds are stacked against them. Investing in this team and their activity is one of the very best uses of your levy funds, and it is my intention to keep building on their expertise and their success.
Apart from your levy funds, what can producers do to support the cause?
At the recent Pigs Tomorrow conference, I suggested that we might all need to look in the mirror and ask ourselves whether we were really doing everything in our power to optimise biosecurity.
I suggested that maybe we talked a good game, but didn’t necessarily, or always, have the evidence to back up our claims. Afterwards, a number of producers told me, rather ruefully, I had a point.
So, my call to action is this: consider your own farm and ask yourself whether you could do a little more to reduce the risk of disease entry. Cleaner trucks? Better fences? Showers, changes of clothes and boots? Better signage? More careful sourcing of pigs? More thorough quarantine? Better bird-proofing? More control over people access?
If you do nothing else, please, please make sure that no-one can bring a pork product anywhere near your pigs. We know that our greatest current risk is ASF.
We know that the most likely route of an outbreak is a carelessly discarded infected pork product. We know that all our exports depend on continuing freedom from ASF and any other notifiable disease.
Zoe and her colleagues at NPA have been shouting this message from the rooftops for ages, and yet my challenge to you all is that we are not vigilant enough in protecting the biosecurity of our farms.
Each producer can do a little more.