April 2014: CAP reform challenges around the corner

There’s one thing in my job that’s certain: no two days are ever the same and there’s a challenge around every corner. CAP reform, we’d hoped, was something we could keep a watching brief on, rather than get seriously involved. No such luck; for outdoor producers there are going to be a number of new rules to understand and comply with, and so-called “Greening” will possibly be the most critical.

Following an enquiry from a producer, the NPA’s Lizzie Press and I have had to take a detailed look at what this involves. The main point is that, for holdings of more than 10ha, more than one crop will have to be grown in order to claim payments. Pigs are not a crop, so there needs to be something planted, which could be grass, but we’re still working out implications and seeking clarification from Defra and others.

We suspect pig keepers on farm business tenancies will be most at risk, however, if they’re operating what we call “enlarged holdings”, because they need to meet NVZ rules for organic manure loading from grazing animals (the 170kg/ha rule), things may be okay.

More details will emerge soon, according to Defra’s timelines, but what’s put on claim forms this year could be critical next, so detailed studying of the rules is required, or you could seek help from a professional who understands outdoor pigs. We’ll have to wait and see how landlords react.

Last week I joined a party of agricultural engineers on a visit to the Perkins Engines factory at Peterborough. What a transformation since I was last there about 10 years ago. Technology is in evidence everywhere, making it a world-class competitive manufacturing plant. First the technical team talked about engine development, cleaning emissions to meet European and other stringent market requirements. The good news is they believe that, for the next generation, drivability and fuel consumption will return. The bad news is that all emission control elements double the cost of an engine! The key difference to pig meat is that the customer has no choice and has to pay.

Next we toured the shop floor with robots everywhere doing what were skilled jobs. Cylinder heads are machined to a tolerance of three microns (a thick human hair is 70 microns). Temperature changes within the factory are automatically taken into account.

There are many in the pig industry whose passion comes across to all they meet, but crankshafts? The manager in charge of the £50 million crank line clearly loved his subject and knew every detail of every stage of the process. Again, there’s precision and attention to detail all the way. A £400 tungsten carbide drill bit with two internal passageways injecting oil at the tip, that could drill oil ways in a hardened crank in 10 seconds, was his star turn. It sounds boring, but it was impressive compared to the blunt drill bits most of us possess.

It was reassuring to see British manufacturing able to compete in world markets providing quality products. I do urge everyone to take time out and see how other industries operate; there’s a lot to learn.

> Nigel Penlington joined BPEX in 2004 and is the organisation’s environment programme manager. He specialises in environmental issues affecting the UK pig industry and production technology

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