December 2015: Levy payers remain at the heart of my role

It’s been a busy few months… and since my last column, as many of you will be aware, my job role has changed and I’m pleased to say I’m now head of research and development and knowledge exchange at AHDB Pork.
As part of this new role, I’ll be leading the technical team and my priority will remain to deliver first-class services to levy payers. I’d like to take this opportunity to reassure the industry that the environment team will continue to operate as normal.

The work undertaken by the team has altered in recent years as the amount of direct involvement with the Environment Agency and Defra has slowed. However, interaction with levy payers (the more interesting part) is on the up and for this reason we’ve got an opportunity to reshape a little.

What’s concerning is the apparent technical skills gap serving the industry. Buildings, ventilation and soil management are areas that have problems, and talking to new colleagues in other sectors, it’s broader than I thought.

Retirement means a gulf has developed and it’s only because people in this industry tend to be in it for life that things haven’t got any worse sooner. The more I think about it, in the past 25 years there’s been relatively little “new blood” brought in. However, we’re addressing this in various ways, and will be recruiting into the environment team, albeit possibly in a slightly different format.

We’re also now working slightly differently with the knowledge transfer managers, and two of them are currently undertaking training programmes so they can handle more initial enquiries and carry out field visits. Kate Mellor and Andrew Palmer are currently on soil management courses so they’ll be able to directly assist outdoor producers.

Plus, we’ve invested in new resources to help producers maximise the benefits from their ventilation systems. A number of video clips featuring Tim Miller are now available via the AHDB Practical Pig App.

To improve efficiencies, we’re trialling technology to get more of the team on farm “virtually”. For example, when a member of staff is out on farm they’re taking photos so that when they return to the office we can discuss what the issues are. Alternatively, we join up for a video call that solves biosecurity issues, improves productivity and reduces the carbon footprint.

I’d like to take this opportunity to congratulate Andrew Knowles on winning the David Black Award. Listening to all he had achieved left me thinking wow, how do we live up to that? It was really well deserved and I believe that the work Andrew has done for the industry will continue to pay dividends for years to come.
I also attended the National Pig Awards; it was good to meet and catch up with so many people, and well done to those involved in the organisation of the event, the winners and their supporters. And a special mention to Jimmy Butler for the Chris Brant Award – good choice judges.

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About The Author

Nigel Penlington joined AHDB Pigs in 2004 and is now the organisation’s head of research and development and knowledge exchange.