Expert talks about volatility, mega-trends, role of early life in pig productivity and profitability

Editor’s Note: This is the first installment in a four-part series sharing highlights from the global Life Start: Nourishing Animal & Business Potential event. Organized by Trouw Nutrition in March 2021, the virtual event brought together more than 1,100 people from 66 countries. John Pluske, Honorary Professor at the University of Melbourne, gave the first speech of the day.

John Pluske, Honorary Professor at the University of Melbourne

The global pork industry is always volatile with a plethora of ongoing challenges, from grain harvests and their impact on feed prices or global trade, to supply chain issues, environmental problems or diseases.

“Unfortunately, the emergence of new strains of African swine fever (ASF) virus in China has really reinforced the fact that the impacts of the disease are significant and underscores our need to be vigilant and ensure that practices biosecurity, hygiene and foreign trade are taken into account. times, ”Pluske said. “It’s the last 12 months that have increased volatility and the disruption in the global pork industry is on a whole new level. As everyone knows, we are at the heart of a global pandemic, which was identified only 15 months ago. “

The unprecedented combination of ASF and COVID-19 has profoundly changed the dynamics of the global pork industry and the business models that once existed, he said.

“ASF certainly continues to impact pork production in Asia and Europe, and this has had significant impacts on global pork trade flows,” he noted. “The chart on the left (below) shows Europe’s total exports in terms of carcass weight for different years from 2016 to 2020, for a range of different countries: Philippines, South Korea, Hong Kong, Japan and China . “

Image used courtesy of Pig333
Image used courtesy of Pig333

The graph above provides an example, showing Spain’s exports to the countries in January 2020 compared to a year later in January 2021.

“I want to focus your attention on China, the main export destination, but we can see an increase of almost 250% in Spain’s exports to China to meet this demand,” Pluske explained. “COVID-19 and ASF will continue to affect the supply chain, including producers, slaughterhouse capacity, exporters and importers, and consumers. The global feed crisis and pork trade will remain heavily affected by the current global uncertainty and are likely to continue over the next year or two.

One of the lessons learned from the pandemic is that it has had a huge impact on the way society orders, purchases, prepares and consumes pork and other foods.

“Some of these challenges, such as balancing the restaurant business, home cooked meals and ready meals, will persist in the future,” he said.

Mega trends in the pork industry

Several mega trends will continue to impact and challenge pork production and profitability in the future.

  • Food safety – how our food is produced and processed
  • Animal welfare and treatment will always be paramount
  • Environmental sustainability and stewardship
  • Reduced antibiotic use and better antimicrobial management

“This is the era of consumer empowerment. Consumers will continue to push for greater trust and transparency in agriculture and farmers, veterinarians and processors, and throughout the food supply chain, ”he said. “At the end of the day, consumers’ expectations for products or brands will be higher; consumers will increasingly want to feel good about their choices of pork and food. ”

Animal welfare can come at a cost

Farmers and those who care for farm animals continue to strive to improve the welfare of their animals. This is a given in pig production; it is not negotiable. Improving welfare often requires a change in practice or protocol which can cost money and can act as a deterrent to farmers.

“The reverse is that there is a risk that doing nothing to improve welfare decreases the farmer’s social license to operate and raise animals. Therefore, is there a way to help these companies facing the dilemma of what practices to change to improve farm animal welfare without hurting profitability? Pluske noted.

A new paper offers a decision tool for companies considering practice changes to improve farm animal welfare that serves as a guide to help producers make evidence-based decisions.

The horizontal axis, going from negative (left) to positive (right), shows the effect of a change in practice on animal welfare. The vertical axis represents the effect of a change in practice on the profitability of the company with a more positive effect (higher profitability) for the company shown above.

“This is the upper right corner in green, where we have positive effects on the animal and positive effects on the company,” he explained. “On the other hand, the lower left quadrant where there are negative effects on animal welfare and negative effects on the business, is not where we want to be. We want to move into that upper right quadrant, where there are benefits for both animal welfare and business. “

This leads to a question about piglet mortality and morbidity – is it inevitable or is it unacceptable in the future? Given the association between larger liter size and piglet mortality, and concerns associated with sow welfare for larger litters, is it ethical to continue these trends? If management can be optimized and well-being can be improved, then how much mortality is acceptable, he asked.

Role of early childhood in achieving the full genetic potential of the piglet

Low birth weight piglets, which weigh less than 1.1 to 1.2 kg, are a challenge for all production systems, especially those that operate on an all-in and all-out basis. They generally have higher pre-weaning mortality, slower growth rate, decreased pig quality and can represent up to 25% of the piglet population. Of course, not all low birth weight pigs stay light throughout life, and some can perform well if they are managed and fed properly.

Many other factors can influence growth from weaning to slaughter. A recent Australian analysis of the cost of a low birth weight piglet estimated it to be around US $ 11.50 per pig born alive (AU $ 15 / € 9.70). The cost includes additional days to market associated with additional food and shelter. Additionally, there may be additional costs associated with negative impacts on carcass and / or meat quality.

One of the sources of low birth weight piglets is golden litters. Several years ago the Australian pig industry attempted to optimize the progeny of first litters, as golden or first litter sows constitute a significant proportion of the herd, and golden progeny represents a significant production penalty. Compared to offspring born to multiparous sows, golden offspring are born lighter and weaned lighter. They generally have a higher incidence of health and mortality problems and take longer to reach marketable weight.

A collection of data from two production systems in Australia compares gilts and sows (right panel). When it comes to weight, golden offspring of the same age are lighter at all times and tend to grow more slowly.

“Just because they’re lighter doesn’t necessarily mean they are less efficient in processing food and can actually reach sales weight in a reasonable amount of time,” he noted. .

How much does the golden offspring cost? Part of the same project looked at the feed cost margin – the margin between revenue normalized to one kilogram of the carcass price and feed costs, which provides an estimate of profitability.

“At the time this particular study was carried out on two of Australia’s largest vertically integrated farms, the margin difference in the cost of feeding golden offspring versus sow offs was about 6 to AU $ 10 per slaughter pig in favor of sow offspring, ”he said. “Therefore, the golden offspring costs between US $ 4.60 and US $ 7.50, or $ 3.80 and US $ 6.30. This gives further indication of what some of the production penalties associated with low birth weight piglets might be. “

The pork industry is extremely resilient, but it must continue to adapt and evolve to face the disruptions and challenges ahead, such as the increasing pressure on the pork industry to be sustainable. Survival in the industry means focusing or refocusing on the basics of pig production, such as biosecurity and hygiene, husbandry and management, welfare and the environment, nutrition and l immunity, new technologies, while reducing costs and increasing income and meeting the growing demands of societal expectations around pig farming and breeding.

“The critical importance of nutrition for sows and piglets during gestation, after parturition and after weaning cannot be underestimated, but there is a need for an evaluation of the economic evaluation of practices and interventions. through the performance of the whole life and the whole herd, ”says Pluske. “In this regard, research and development is essential to meet the challenges and improve businesses in the future.”

To watch Dr. Pluske’s full presentation, go here:

Sarah mikesell


Sarah Mikesell grew up on a five-generation family farm in Ohio, United States, where her family still cultivates. She feels extremely lucky to be able to do what she loves – writing about livestock and farming. You can find it on Twitter or LinkedIn.

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