View from Ireland – a stable market, rising costs, record-breaking exports and a wild boar media circus!

Irish pig producer and consultant Shane McAuliffe explains what has been happening in the Irish pig sector during a difficult year.

.In my last article, I asked whether the year of the Ox would be kind to the Pig and so far the Irish pig market has remained relatively static, in terms of prices at least.

Increases in April were warmly welcomed and the price hovered around the €1.70-1.76/kg for the early part of the summer, but after recent drops, is now around €1.58-1.60/kg at time of writing.
In a normal year, prices like this would be enough to leave a significant margin, but grain prices have been creeping upwards.

We are looking at a rise of €50 per tonne on 2020 prices, meaning a 20c/kg/pig increase is needed to cover it. It pushes the average breakeven pig price to €1.65-1.70/kg.

An increase in the breeding herd and carcase weights has shown that, according to the Central Statistics Office, Irish pigmeat production increased by almost 6% in the first half of 2021. Pigmeat exports for the first half of 2021 increased by 9% to 136,000 tonnes compared to 2020.

China has slipped back slightly, with exports around 17% lower for the second quarter, but it is still our number one market. Australia, Philippines and Japan are all performing strongly too so I expect 2021 will be yet another record-breaking year for Irish pigmeat exports.

Wild boar media circus

There is officially no wild boar in Ireland, and they are listed as an invasive species. It is one of our many strengths when keeping African Swine Fever off the island. At the end of June I was sent a message on Facebook from a local woman with photos of a herd of wild boar. They were running wild in forests only a few miles from my home.

After so many years of attending global conferences about the destruction caused by this species it was very surreal to see them with my very own eyes. The National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) acted accordingly and five of the six were euthanised that day. A local councillor posted a photo of the animals on Facebook, which alerted the media and subsequently when they learned that some were euthanised it really did descend into a circus.

I had media requests from print, radio and TV, even featuring on the main news on Ireland’s state broadcaster RTE. Meanwhile, the majority of the public, unaware of the dangers of invasive species, were calling for the remaining animal to be saved. He was found a few days later and, after being euthanised, was taken for testing. It was a reminder of how invasive species can potentially cause such devastation.

Another strange occurrence in 2021 is the rise of community groups who object to pig farm developments. It has very much been a UK issue, but a number of developments this year attracted a lot of attention and I was glad to work with many of the farmers affected.

All were existing farms with pigs already there, and why locals would object to a farmer wanting to increase the welfare conditions for his animals and reduce the risk of environmental pollution is really baffling to me.

Of course, the councils do see sense and grant permission anyway, but it’s clear the pig industry needs to do more to engage with the public about the work we do.

Indeed, we are also building on one of our farms at home this year, adding extra rooms to existing housing to provide more space for the pigs after research we carried out in 2020 keeping pigs at different stocking rates showed that at a lower stocking rate they show an increased performance. We have also installed a slurry aeration system which will reduce our ammonia emissions by 50% and increase nutrient availability in the manure.

Exciting new role

I started a very exciting part time role in April, as the Head of Swine for Ireland for a company called AHV International. They are an industry leader in quorum sensing powered animal health solutions, and so far the products have been hugely successful – keep your eyes opened for a UK launch soon!

I left the Irish Farmers Association’s National Pigs Committee after 5 years to take up a role on the National Animal Health Committee as the Chairman of Animal Health for Kerry. It means I can still continue my lobbying on important issues affecting the pig sector, such as the new EU Veterinary Medicines Regulations.

Research work on farm has remained very busy, and I have had great students on placement over the summer to help on some research projects like another on our freedom farrowing farm which had very positive results.

Currently, we are busy with the Zinco project which looks at the effects of zinc oxide on the microbiome, resistome and immune system of pigs and strategies to face zinc withdrawal. Zinc is yet another challenge to add to the ongoing list!

  • Shane McAuliffe’s family produces 50,000 pigs per year for the Truly Irish brand. He is secretary of the Irish Pig Health Society, secretary of the Irish branch of the European Pig Producers and sits on the Irish Farmers’ Association’s National Animal Health Committee. He is also head of swine for AHV Ireland
  • You can follow Shane on Twitter: @ShaneMcAuliffe1

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