June 2016: Could it be that farmers are all born optimists?

We know it isn’t just the pig industry that’s in the doldrums, the whole of agriculture is in a dire situation. I understand that 162 food production companies went into administration last year, which was more than treble the previous year, according to research by accountancy firm Moore Stephenson.

This is apparently due to the supermarket sector’s ongoing price war to cut prices to protect market share. I think we all know that it’s the farmers’ non-existent margins that are cut even further, but I’m not sure how we as farmers go about protecting our own businesses. Cereals, milk and pigs were 30% down on prices from two years ago. Says it all really.

Having said that, there was a much better turn out and aura at the Pig & Poultry Fair this year. Could it be that farmers generally, and pig farmers in particular, are born optimists? I think we must be, or there would be even more milk and pig businesses closing.

As you drive round the countryside, I’m sure you’ll see a lot more anaerobic digesters (AD) being installed on farms. I heard a comment recently that, to be fair, I hadn’t thought about too much, and that was about the type of crops we’re growing now for energy. There are more and more fields of maize around, the majority of which is for use in these AD plants to produce either gas or electricity.

I also hear that more and more of the byproducts we’ve been using for wet feeding our pigs are now going to these AD plants for several reasons. One is that they help the installations to work; then they’re prepared to pay more than hard up pig farmers; and there’s probably the fact that lorries don’t have to be licensed to carry food products, which makes it easier and cheaper for the hauliers.

There’s also been a growth in the acreage of myscanthus grown for power stations, so all-in-all, more land is being taken for non-food usage, so we’ll no doubt finish up being warm but hungry!

As regards the cereals grown to feed our livestock, there seems no likelihood of a price increase to at least allow us to cover our considerable costs. Good luck to the livestock man on that account, but something will have to happen before long; it’s a very serious situation.

There was the slightest increase in pigmeat prices during the Pig Fair week, but will it increase more and will it be sustained, or will it, like one knowledgable chap thinks, dip again in the autumn?

It’s bad enough for any established farmer to make a go of things currently, but how do our successors, or a young chap trying to start on his own, manage? It could be that industry money could well buy all the land available, and they would require first-class managers. Maybe that’s the only way forward.

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About The Author

Sam Walton is a Yorkshire farmer and former pig producer, and the founding editor of Pig World.