August 2014: Why don’t we unite and share pig research?

One of my neighbours started on his winter barley on July 10, which is about a week earlier than normal. That’s a week before Driffield Show, and talking to the chap who looks after a local grain store, he doesn’t normally receive anything before then.

My winter rape is also a good week earlier than normal, so it could be that we’ll finish harvest earlier then normal and have a really good start on the merry-go-round for next year, as I’ll need to get the rape in after winter wheat before the end of August. This current crop was drilled after vining peas, so was in early and has never looked back.

I’m told that the harvest price for barley round here has dropped to £105/t. Good luck to the pig producers who’re going to use it for feed, but if no-one bothers to grow it next year, don’t be surprised.

On a recent trip to Denmark, I was pleased to see that crops there look as well as I have ever seen them on the journey from Copenhagen to mid-Jutland. I did wonder if they put as much care and effort into their arable as they do with their pigs, but the Danes being the Danes, we all know the answer to that.

I think we will agree that our best British bacon is equally as good as the bacon we get from Denmark. Where we fall short is the numbers produced per sow, and it’s not just genetics. They don’t have 40% of their herd outdoors, and they can keep their newly served sows in stalls for four weeks after service, which allows for embryos to set.

But they also do an enormous amount of research and development, and that highlights how disjointed our industry looks here in the UK. Danish pig farmers “own” their industry. They own the organisation that runs it and which decides on the research; and they own the AI set up and are responsible for the genetics on all 25 nucleus units. They even own the major processors.

Having concentrated on Large White and Landrace as dam lines, and putting a whole amount of effort into the Duroc as a sire line, they don’t have the variation that we need here for porkers, cutters, baconers and heavies. We have independent breeding companies offering a variety of genetics for these different situations. They do a lot of research too, the only difference being they’re using their own money and don’t have the advantages of a united industry paying a small levy focused on the same objective.

We have sows here that have just as many numbers born, and I’ve seen sows all suckling 16 piglets on many units. Perhaps it’s the individualistic approach of the Brits that won us the war, but it makes it more difficult for us to properly unite and share research and information.

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

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