August 2015: Fanning the flames of opposition to pig farming

Maybe it’s unfair to pick on the UK’s provincial press for publishing ill-informed rubbish about pig production, but I’m going to anyway – and here’s why. Our industry is at an important crossroads with its very future at stake. Production facilities are becoming outdated, and low profitability – and even losses in many cases – is holding back investment. It’s a vicious circle where that failure to invest is often the very reason that profits are elusive.

So, anyone who’s prepared to invest deserves all the support they can get. Unfortunately that’s not the view of many local newspapers that seem to be more interested in sensational headlines than a considered look at the issues involved.

Last week (July 21), the Belfast Telegraph (BT) carried the following headline on its website: “Pig megafarm number two as farmer puts in plans to council”.

And how about this for an inflammatory first paragraph: “A planning application has been submitted for a massive pig farm near Limavady that could be even bigger than the controversial Halls Farm pig megafarm plan in Newtonabbey.”

Given the fact that the BT story acknowledged that this latest unit would be on an 8.5-acre site that was considerably smaller than the [24.5-acre] Halls site, the “even bigger” suggestion was quite a stretch, but here’s how the paper did it: “The planning application says there are to be 2,247 sows in the new unit – and if each sow produces the NI average of two litters per year and 10 piglets per litter, that will mean well over 40,000 pigs per year going through . . . exceeding the 30,000 envisaged for Hall’s Farm.”

There’s just so much wrong with that paragraph that it’s laughable. It’s comparing a wildly incorrect throughput at the latest farm with the maximum capacity on the other. There’s the fact that one is a multiplication unit producing 30kg weaners for finishing elsewhere, while the other is a grower and finisher unit; and then there’s the suggested NI pig industry output of 20 pigs/sow/year. If the new unit isn’t targeting at least 30, it should be investing its cash elsewhere.

Of course it’s easy for me to criticise a journalist who we must presume had no industry knowledge for putting such nonsense into print, but as the story makes clear, he talked to the farmer involved. He could easily have tested his assertions for accuracy if he’d been minded to.

That’s what’s really annoying here; it’s a perfect example of not letting the facts get in the way of a good story. Rather than get the real numbers from the farmer involved, the story ends up completely misrepresenting the new unit.

And it’s actually worse than that. The focus that the anti-farming lobby has put on Halls Pig Farm means this latest story will already be on their radar thanks to the internet. And that means more planning objections from people with no links to the local area and more petitions against perfectly legal farming practices.

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About The Author

Graeme Kirk has been editor of Pig World since March 2013. Born into a farming family in South-west Scotland, he’s spent his career in agricultural journalism.