Challenge is just another word for opportunity

Jane Matthews was recently elected as the new chair of the British Pig Association. She lives in Chester and keeps Oxfordshire Sandy & Black pigs, chairing the breed society

I feel very privileged to have been elected as the first chairwoman of the BPA and to have a diverse team on Council with whom to work over the next three years. There are challenges ahead, with hikes in feed and straw prices over winter and the uncertainty of a post-Brexit landscape.

African swine fever looms in Belgium and we all have a role to play, being vigilant and reinforcing the message of the risks involved, to ensure that it does not reach us.

Challenge is another word for opportunity, and while Brexit presents a lot of potential challenges, we must turn these to our advantage, stressing the superiority of British pork and our welfare standards and encouraging the public to buy British.

For the three years prior to becoming chairwoman, I chaired the BPA Pedigree Pork Committee, establishing the Pedigree Pork Scheme which provides a brand for members for the marketing of their pork, something I am keen to develop further.

I am particularly keen to garner public understanding and support for the important conservation work undertaken by the BPA and its members to secure the future of our pigs and the diversity of genetics they provide.

I am involved in the conservation breeding programme and have set-up a quarantine unit where stock selected for the BPA/RBST genebank is kept prior to going over to the AI centre in Northern Ireland.

One of the strengths of the BPA as a breed society is that we look after a number of breeds, starting with three breeds in 1884 – Large White, Middle White and Tamworth – and we’ve since grown to 14 breeds in total.

Over the last 20 years the pig industry has hollowed out in the middle with the big herds getting bigger. The 100-sow family farm has all but disappeared while the number of much smaller herds has increased exponentially.

BPA members operate almost exclusively in this smaller sector, but contrary to the commonly used and rather derogatory term of ‘hobby farmers’ they do still have to make money.

At a basic level, the needs of big and small producers are the same: access to affordable feed and other production costs alongside a fair share of the market price.

The ways in which sustainable production can be maintained in these two very different business models are poles apart, which is why the BPA has taken on the role of representing the small-scale producer. We work with the NPA, AHDB Pork and others to represent the whole industry and, in these changing times, to keep our issues on the table whilst the ground continues to shift under our feet.

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