The technical director of Primary Diets, Paul Toplis, tackles some of the question marks hanging over plans for a new pig sector centre of excellence
Why ask Pig Producers?
The Government has recognised the decline in the number and quality of pig facilities capable of doing useful farm-size testing of new ideas at our universities and is asking us if we want some money for some new “bricks & mortar” to upgrade our ability to do industry-led, solution-based research. It’s getting hard to try out new ideas at UK facilities.
What’s the catch?
The money that the Government has allocated (£90 million) is for all types of agriculture, so if pig producers don’t ask for a share, other sectors will get it. Someone has to step up and champion the needs of the pig industry. The Government wants us to have appropriate applied-research facilities and will fund them.
Will it become an expensive White Elephant?
There are genuine fears that Government money will build something and leave pig producers having to find new money to run it. It will only work if we can provide an ongoing funding stream: but that can be done if we set our minds to it. I believe if the UK pig industry pools its current resources, no new money needs to be found.
So where will the money to run it come from?
Industry-led research has a track record of solving producer problems, and so Government prefers to allocate its own research funds to partner industry research programmes. If enough of the supply trade comes together to form a research club for funding pre-competitive research, then this becomes a key to opening the Government research funding coffers. This is already happening in the arable sector and the animal health sector, where £1 of industry money releases up to £9 of Government research funding. We’re being told match funding is available for applied problem-solving pig research if the supply industry will come together to identify solution-based research projects and put its money where its mouth is.
Can the industry really find the money?
Historically we were the best, but have failed to invest. Sadly, supply industry money is increasingly spent abroad at the superb Dutch, Danish and French centres of excellence because they do a better job than facilities in the UK. So, if we have a new UK facility we have the best chance of repatriation of supply-industry research money.
Will supply industry money be enough?
No it won’t! Pig producers must lobby for levy money to become eligible for Government match funding. No new money is required, but we desperately need to remove the restriction on how that money can be used.
There are still too many ifs and buts’!
True, we’ve got a fight on our hands, but do we want a British pig industry we can be proud of? Do we want to compete on the international stage? Pig production is a science-based activity and doing it better, doing it cheaper (lower COP) and doing it in a socially responsible way (carbon-conscious production with a lower impact on climate change and on our natural capital) can only be done with better science.
So what’s needed?
Champions from each and every part of the supply chain to step up and fight for a centre that will solve our bottlenecks; that will drive down our costs; and that will develop new meat products that consumers want to buy.
Is it worth the hassle?
We are in the last chance saloon with so many of our pig facilities in a slow dive to extinction, our pig scientists approaching retirement and our supply trade moving their research overseas. The pig industries we envy most (Danish, Dutch, French and increasingly German) each have a centre of excellence, and it’s no accident that these countries have superior performance and a history of longer-term profitability. Get involved by ensuring BPEX and NPA fight for what pig producers need most – our own monogastric centre of excellence for the pig and poultry sectors.