What price a premium for good welfare?

It’s a pity we can’t match restaurant prices of almost £30/kg for Iberian ham.
Is it really true that the more you charge, the more customers want, and are willing to pay?

In some instances, I’m sure that’s correct. But for the rank and file, who struggle for whatever reason, bargains are their key driver.
So, if we can’t produce delicacies such as Parma or Iberian ham, we can certainly lead the way in producing good wholesale product, reared in the best possible conditions.

We know outdoor can command a premium, and rightly so, considering the extra cost. But with all the benefits we now have, using updated systems for health and welfare and a lower use of antibiotics – ensuring pigs are really cared for – surely that must have a place at the high-end.

Last month’s National Pig Awards were, again, a resounding success. It never ceases to amaze me just how good our producers are, and it is never easy to pick a winner. There is usually just a hair’s breadth between entries.

Long gone are the days when pigs were treated as scavengers on farms, usually running in a straw yard. If they looked like farrowing, they were put in a loose box to give birth, where some of the litter would survive.

“With all the benefits we now have, using updated systems for health and welfare and a lower use of antibiotics – ensuring pigs are really cared for – surely that must have a place at the high-end”

There were no such indicators as numbers of pigs per sow, number of litters per sow, conception rates, feed conversion rates or temperature or lighting controls. Indeed, at one time, our pig sector was almost a cottage industry.

It does make me wonder what it will be like in another 50 years. While we currently use millions of tonnes of soya for protein, will we be using maggots, eelworms and flies as protein?

Will farming as we know it still exist, or will we be manufacturing pills to live on?
I console myself with the fact I won’t be around to see it!

Meanwhile, there has been a bit of relief for arable farmers, with a long-overdue increase in the price of cereals. Thankfully, the price of pigmeat is going the same way too; I have heard from several sources that record highs could be on the table next spring. I sincerely hope so, for the pig industry’s sake, to enable them to cope with any increase on the arable side.

Taking a look at the Chinese market, they have fewer pigs than they did, and thankfully they eat many parts of the pig we would treat as offal. I wonder to what degree the huge tonnage of such delicacies we have sent them has helped increase prices here? I suspect quite a bit, and long may it continue.

It has been a turbulent year for the farming industry as a whole. Despite that, support for Pig World from producers and associate companies continues to increase, and I wish you all everything you would wish yourselves for the forthcoming festive season and New Year.

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About The Author

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