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Becca's blog: My first few weeks at the NPA...

7th Jun 2019 / By Rebecca Veale

Well, what a welcome! In my first few weeks I’ve been lucky enough to visit members' farms, head to Brussels, enjoy some interesting discussions and eat some delicious British pork!

Rebecca Veale pigsI’ve worked predominantly with cattle and sheep farmers over the last four years so it’s been quite a contrast to enter the world of pigs.

What I’ve picked up so far is how dynamic and forward-thinking the industry is. I’ve had some in-depth discussions about production going forward, what the long-term goals are and how producers/industry need support to get there whether that is policy, technology, resources - all are up for discussion.

I am under no illusion that it’s not all rosy, there are plenty of challenges that will make the journey ahead difficult, and not all producers will have the same vision. But the tenacity, determination and attention to detail of the NPA team and NPA members will drive the sector forward, they will not be held back.

Price is a topic which has been a regular point of discussion over these first few weeks and the reliance of producers on a good price to support the times when the price has been very low – the pennies certainly count.

I travelled to Brussels to the Copa Working Party meeting and joined the Commission’s Civil Dialogue Group at the end of May so got to hear from other member states about their situations, input costs are higher for some but most are getting a better price across the board. We can’t be disadvantaged in GB when our competitors are achieving much higher prices, although some of the processors from some countries were quick to complain – someone always likes a grumble!

Other challenges which have cropped up in discussions include the requirements in terms of ammonia emissions and the huge costs the producer picks up, the vulnerability in terms of ASF in Europe alongside the opportunity the Asian outbreaks pose in terms of exports and the challenging behaviour of activists and their often illegal approach to airing their views.

There is so much diversity within our systems in the UK. Whilst indoor and outdoor systems are fundamentally doing the same thing they do so in very different ways and have their own challenges.

I hadn’t appreciated the rotation of ground on an outdoor unit and the enormity of the infrastructure which needs to move every few years. They need to be sited on sandy soil, which is not easily found given the competition from other sectors, particularly given the rotation requirements.

For indoor units fine tuning inputs is necessary to ensure production is optimised – whether that is feed, water, grouping, energy, the list goes on and is never exhausted. For all systems there is huge attention to detail. But at all units I have visited so far I have met very content pigs so the diversity works, and having tried the products from both indoor and outdoor systems, those pigs make delicious sausages!

The other thing that has been apparent over the last few weeks is that whilst we’re all a bit sick of discussing Brexit it is something we talk about all the time. The new PM and the deal that they agree with the EU will be pivotal in policy for pig producers going forward.

I’m off to Bulgaria for a conference on gut health now so I’ll fill you in on that one next week!