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Pig Farming Conference Series Ends on a High

17 September 2014, at 10:46pm

UK - A piece of the British pig sector's history came to an end yesterday with the 25th and final annual JSR Farming Conference, reports Jackie Linden. The event series went out on a high note with five varied presentations with plenty to interest the invited delegates. Topics included - on live production, pork quality, a retailer's sustainability goals, the future of the British livestock industry and some home-truths about the food industry.

Following a welcome by JSR Farming Group's Chairman, Tim Rymer and JSR Genetics' Director of Science & Technology, Dr Grant Walling, the first presentation showed how farmers could easily be losing more that £200 per sow and year when pigs are unable to achieve their genetic potential.

JSR Genetics
Dr Grant Walling

Stephen Waite, [pictured above, left], JSR's Head of Technology Transfer, explained that, each year, the genetic selection programme at JSR improves the phenotypic and economic performance of the breeding stock and that this is passed on to customers in the form of live pigs or semen.

This is how the potential performance of a commercial farm constantly improves but this potential may not be achieved in practice. If left unchecked, this performance lag can have surprising effects on the overall profitability of a business, which on the face may appear to be doing well.

'Making pork fit for farm and fit for fork' was the theme of the conference, and covering the latter area was JSR Genetics' Director of Meat Quality, Caroline Mitchell [pictured above, centre].

She explained how some aspects of conventional wisdom on pig meat quality deserves to be challenged and how some small changes on farm and at the slaughterhouse can have significant effects on eating quality.

Ethical quality does not necessarily have any bearing on pig meat quality, she stressed, adding that perhaps the greatest effects of all are those of the cook, who is beyond any control by the farmer or processor.

The aim of improving eating quality is, of course, to get more people eating pork and increase repeat purchasing, added Ms Mitchell.

Beth Hart, [pictured above, right], Head of Technical for Fresh Foods at supermarket chain, Sainsbury’s, said that her company has a long and proud heritage of providing a wide choice of quality food at fair prices.

The company's success has been built on having consistent values and continuous innovation with customers’ needs at heart, she said.

Product and brand integrity now reaches much further down the supply chain and covers a wide range of social, environmental and commercial aspects of everything we do, said Ms Hart. These sustainability issues can be global and highly complex but the customers still trust Sainsbury’s, our farmers and our supply chain to do the right thing.

In 2011, the retailer published its 20×20 Sustainability Plan, which remains a cornerstone of its business strategy.

From our commitment to British products and improving animal welfare, Ms Hart said Sainsbury's has made great progress and invested heavily in the future of its supply chains.

The value of the UK’s agricultural output has increased in recent years, as commodity prices strengthened, according to the National Farmers Union President, Meurig Raymond. However, he said, this has not been matched by increases in the output volume.

Indeed, the influence of policy has actually eroded the UK’s production capabilities in some sectors, he said, whilst our overall agricultural productivity has shown little improvement in recent years.

However, future food demand prospects in the UK as well as globally represent a tremendous opportunity for farmers all over the world, particularly in the livestock sector.

To meet these demands, farmers need to invest in their businesses to make them still more efficient, continuing output gains and reductions in environmental impacts, for example, as well as being more transparent with consumers.

Mr Raymond warned that we ignore debates over production and its impact at our peril.

"Sentiment can become reflected in political rhetoric and that in turn becomes reflected in policy," he said. "If that triggers unilateral decisions by the UK authorities, it’s particularly worrying – look at the CAP as a case in point."

Mr Raymond concluded: "I believe that it’s the potential and prospects of farming that are always going to do most to attract the next generation into UK agriculture. We have a unique opportunity to grow our industry, to boost the environment and to deliver for animal welfare. I hope you share my enthusiasm for the future."

Writer, journalist and broadcaster, Jay Rayner, made the final presentation, entitled 'A greedy man in a hungry world', the same title as his recent book.

As Caroline Mitchell had aimed to dispel some of the myths about the eating quality of pork, Mr Rayner did for the global food industry - in a most entertaining way that combined personal memories and hard-nosed reporting.

Among these myths, he showed how locally produced food is not necessarily more environmentally friendly and he said that ‘organic’ has become little more than a marketing label that is "way passed its sell-by date," he said.

That may all be a little hard to swallow for the modern, ethically-aware food shopper but that does not make it any less true, Mr Rayner said.

JSR Genetics
JSR 25th Farming Conference
left to right: Stephen Waite, Jay Rayner, Tim Rymer, Beth Hart, Meurig Raymond and Caroline Mitchell