Anxious wait ahead for pig farmers

Proposals to ban farrowing crates are making pig farmers nervous about expanding piggeries. PHOTO...
Proposals to ban farrowing crates are making pig farmers nervous about expanding piggeries. PHOTO: TIM CRONSHAW
Steady farm-gate prices have yet to sway pig farmers to expand their piggeries as they wait on the potentially costly results of a new welfare draft code.

The pork industry group NZPork has proposed alternatives to the draft code for raising pigs written up by the National Animal Welfare Advisory Committee (Nawac).

Proposals to ban farrowing crates is being claimed by NZPork as harmful to the industry if they go ahead in their entirety.

Pig farmers are facing many of the same challenges as other farmers, but not to the same extent as those relying on export markets.

Chief executive Brent Kleiss said reasonable demand for pig meat and steady prices might not be enough for farmers to expand businesses.

"Some farmers will be looking at the idea of maybe increasing their supply, but of course that takes a while to trickle through and whether they actually do that or sit where they are at the moment [we will see] given they are hedging their bets a bit with the economic downturn and people spending less and interest rates, which all farmers are dealing with. And of course there is the uncertainty of waiting for the outcome of a pig welfare code review. So they won’t want to be making too many big decisions around buildings and infrastructure and changes on farm until they hear what that means for their future."

The Nawac proposal includes a 50%-plus increase in space for growing pigs, the removal of farrowing crates, changes to the weaning age and farm practices designed to protect the health of piglets and sows.

Mr Kleiss said they all came at an extra cost for farmers depending on how far they went.

He said the pork industry believed it had come up with a well-researched counter-proposal which the government was considering.

"We strongly want to keep farrowing crates, maybe not for quite the length of time that they are currently used for. There definitely can be a reduction, but we see them as incredibly important for piglet welfare in those first vulnerable days of birth coming into the world so the science is quite clear on that. We also don’t think there’s a need for quite the level of increase in space the committee was suggesting especially for larger herd sizes where those spaces are shared. Certainly for some of very small herd sizes we don’t expect to see a single pig or two pigs in a very cramped space — that wouldn’t be right."

Piglet mortalities increase about 3% to 6% if farrowing crates are removed, depending on farms systems and the health status of animals.

Mr Kleiss said if the government went ahead with Nawac’s proposals, farmers would be looking at an 18 to 20-year timeframe in order to pay for the capital expenditure needed to comply with it.

During this time they would have reduced production and faced increased costs.

"It’s not an exciting prospect, to understate it to the maximum, and it would be an industry killer from our point if view."

Brent Kleiss. Photo: supplied
Brent Kleiss. Photo: supplied
Mr Kleiss said pig farmers were not exposed to the whims of international markets as much as other farmers, although pork imports had a bearing on domestic competition.

"Farmers are seeing high prices in feed still, although they have come back from where they were and they’re not going to drop to the levels enjoyed in the past. But in general the supply of barley, wheat and maize are all steady ... and the proteins which are incredibly important are holding stable as well. Then the price they are getting for their pig meat is also steady."

Pig meat returns normally drop seasonally in March to April. They held well and over the past couple of months, including difficult short weeks in April, had been quiet but they had got through that and were looking to be in good shape, he said.

The farm-gate price for fresh pork was hovering last week at about $5.50 a kilogram to $5.90/kg.

Mr Kleiss said international swings which "rippled" here included greater demand for European pork from China.

"This means the price of imports has increased for both supply and demand and also the economic situation world wide also means that transporting it all the way to New Zealand has increased difficulties so we are seeing imports are facing pressures they maybe haven’t had to deal with quite to the extent of the moment. But we don’t really count on that being a sure thing to continue. The demand for pork worldwide won’t go away and someone somewhere will find supply to meet that and we will just have to find our way to compete domestically with the cheaper, lower-standard pork coming into New Zealand regardless."

Most of the imported pork is now coming from Canada and the United States as a result of the swing the past year to 18 months from pressures being felt in Europe.

Local pig farmers struggle to compete with overseas bacon, ham and other processed goods which can be processed and manufactured domestically.

"There will be some manufacturers thinking it’s a bit hard to get it from overseas at the moment and maybe they might use some product from New Zealand farmers, but it’s quite limited because we only have 10% to 15% of that manufactured goods market."

New Zealand’s supply of fresh pork remained in hot demand, he said.

The industry is down to about 70 commercial farmers nationwide, who have managed to maintain the same pork production from steady pig numbers for the past five to 10 years.

He said the cost and time spent on consent conditions and compliance for activities such as dealing with effluent and odour was also not giving farmers confidence to invest further.

Pig farmers have just elected the return of Jason Palmer and newcomer Nigel Young to South Island directorships on the board.

Mr Palmer is a Mid Canterbury pig farmer with interests in dairy and forestry, while Mr Young is general manager for PIC/Sunpork New Zealand with 40 years’ experience in the pork industry also in the UK and Australia.


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