May 2015: Retirement’s not for me!

This issue marks the completion of 28 years for Pig World, and how things have changed during those years. Cereal prices at the moment are no higher than they were 20 years ago, and pig prices continue to bump along the bottom, yet everything we buy is at 2015 prices.

I’ve been trying to work out during the past 28 years just what we as farmers should do about it. Retire would be an easy option (I became an octogenarian on May 2), but would cause a lot of complications. It would no doubt involve an expensive move to a smaller house, and where would we put everything!

I suppose, in a way, I’m in a sort of rut; we plough and sow, we fertilise and spray, then we reap. What I’d really like to do is to reap the benefits, but currently they are few and far between. I guess for pigmen, they’re even fewer and further between.

Building a pig unit today is a vastly different proposition from what it was 28 years ago, and the most recent set-up I was privileged to visit was mind-boggling. Normally when a company makes an investment to make it more efficient, it’s able to take advantage of what it has done to expand the business or make it more profitable. Other businesses can probably also dictate the price of their product. Farmers, on the other hand, can’t control the price, and it appears the outlets that take their produce seem to want to claim the extra efficiency for themselves.

And there’s not much pig farmers can do about it. If they withheld their pigs, they’d end up penalised because of overweights, and as modern systems are meant to be fully utilised, where would you put these pigs without them taking up valuable production space for the extra couple of weeks?

When a pig’s fit for market, it’s fit to go; a bullock or lamb, however, can be held back for a week or two without any penalty, and crops can be stored. But the whole farming scenario is geared to constant production to feed the nation, and it goes against the grain (no pun intended) for farmers to do such rash things as restrict supply.
So, we find the agricultural industry struggling somewhat, and I wonder what the farming scene will be like in another 28 years? Well one thing’s certain – that I won’t be here to see it. But it’s quite probable that, at some stage, feed will come in pill form from a factory – or is that too futuristic?

Whatever the outcome, I have thoroughly enjoyed my 28 years with Pig World. That doesn’t mean I’m ready to stop just yet; it would be nice to struggle on to 30, if for nothing other than to keep my addled brain at work!

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About The Author

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