Many French pig producers are looking forward to a new start next year, with a possible change in production systems to help them meet rising demand, as well as new environmental and animal welfare restrictions in 2013.
It is also widely expected that France’s smaller slaughtering companies will merge with others to reach a critical mass that will enable them to have more influence on the market in future.
Most of the country’s pig production is concentrated in the northwest of France (Brittany and Pays de la Loire), which accounts for some 72 percent of total production, with the top 10 slaughtering companies accounting for 82 percent of total production. These top 10 slaughtering companies handle 822 percent of France’s production, while the top five account for 64 percent of the total.
Pig sector in flux
Observers have commented that while some French pig farmers will leave the industry because they cannot afford to convert their units to meet the EU partial sow stall ban that comes into effect on January 1, 2013, others will take the opportunity to restructure their production systems.
Several farmers are expected to stop the production of piglets. Some are investing in new buildings and moving to become fatteners instead, hoping that a decrease of producers will lead to higher pork prices.
Arnaud Buchet, commercial export manager of, Nucleus SAS, which runs the first pig genetic scheme in the country, commented there is “lots of strength” left in the French pig sector. However, he admits they will have to make some changes as they face up to the big challenges of the future.
As far as he is concerned, the strengths lay in the quality of French pig genetics, high sanitary status and the country’s health status and a closed farrow-to-finish farm model, the predominant system in the country’s pig producing regions.
The French pig sector also has a highly skilled labor force and has done a lot of work to mitigate the sector’s impact on the environment through slurry treatment and reducing emissions to reduce units’ carbon footprints.
These “big challenges” include renovating and replacing old buildings that have fallen into disrepair because of low profitability in previous years. They also need to work with pig breeding companies to improve feed conversion rates and increase the number of cycles per year, commented Buchet.
His company, which owns more than 4,000 GGP sows in various breeds, including Large White/Yorkshire, Landrace, Duroc and Pietrain, is already engaged in research with pig farmers to see if this can be done by inseminating sows during lactation. Pigs’ performances are always better when investments are made in new technologies to optimize pig production,” he said.
“The question is how many farmers will leave and how many will stop piglet production to become fatteners. For the moment, nobody knows,” said Buchet. “To my mind, producers who restructure will see productivity rise and even if the number of pig producers producing piglets falls, I am not sure slaughter pig production will decrease.”
French pig production down
On the other hand, observers outside France point out that the country’s breeding herd has been declining for several years and they expect this gradual fall in numbers to continue.
British Pig Executive Analyst, Steven Howarth said: “There has already been a small fall-back in production in France this year. The big unknown is exactly what impact the new EU pig welfare legislation (the partial stalls ban, which comes into operation on January 1, 2013) will have on the French industry next year. “Their government is one of only two EU member states that have not yet told the European Commission how many producers it expects will be able to comply with the partial stall ban when it is imposed – and the country has a number of relatively large pig producers. It is also a significant exporter.
“This is a difficult one to call for next year.”
The latest EU forecasts for pig production also predict a slight fall in production in France this year, with levels dropping to 2,056,000kg, compared with 2,040,000kg during the same period in 2011. The country’s own General Council of Food, Agriculture and Rural Areas has reported that the sector has been lethargic with a constant output level, deteriorating foreign trade and a lack of competitiveness by slaughterhouses.
Demand for pork increasing
However, Buchet is still confident there is a good future ahead for the French pig industry. Domestic demand for pork is increasing by about 3 percent per year since 2006 to reach 32kg/inhabitant and the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization is forecasting a growth in pig meat consumption around the world. “The omens seem good for French producers,” he concluded.
As far as the next step in concerned, Buchet called for the industry to step up its work to improve the image of pig production in society. “I think the French pig industry has to communicate more with citizens and consumers,” says Buchet. “It needs to broadcast the facts about all the work it has done and is doing regarding the environment, animal welfare and the social aspects of pig production.”
He also said that the industry would have to face up soon to the end of pig castration. However, this is more a task for the industry leaders to grapple with, rather than producers. They latter would be quite happy to stop castrating their piglets – there will be less work and less risk of infections for their pigs.