More than 150 delegates participated in the 24th annual JSR Farming Conference. The conference's theme of applying science to develop practical solutions looked at how pig producers and business owners can innovate in the quest for more profitable pork production.

Conference Chairman Dr. Grant Walling, JSR's director of science and technology, opened the conference with a summary of issues that have affected the industry over the last 12 months - namely 'Horse-gate' and the first lab-reared piece of meat, which was a remarkable scientific achievement, but failed to inspire on taste tests.

"The consumer is the most important person in any supply chain and the horsemeat scandal shows that some parts of the industry have lost that vital connection with them," says Walling. "Too often time is spent looking to squeeze an extra few pence out of the processor, and this can lead to breakdowns in the complex chain, which then leads to an erosion of trust as with the horsemeat scandal."

The first speakers of the day were JSR's Stephen Waite, head of technology transfer, and Angus Chambers, feeding herd manager, who together demonstrated the progress JSR is making genetically and commercially.

"It is important to be an early adopter of innovation rather than being a part of the late majority, as if you are not innovating in this industry you are essentially not progressing. In some areas this industry has been laggards for far too long," says Waite. 

With many pig producers struggling to fund the conversion of old farm buildings into state-of-the-art facilities, Angus touched on how this is hampering the finishing efficiency of UK pig production. "A mismatch of building types and feeding systems has historically meant that accurate data recording has been a difficult task at JSR. But with input from nutritionists and vets, as well as the drive and determination of the JSR team, productivity and efficiency is ever increasing."

Science City York Chief Executive, Professor, Nicola Spence talked about 'The Innovation Pig' and how a scientific approach can be used within problem solving. Challenges such as those brought about by a growing population will inevitably mean an increased demand for food, land, energy and other resources. 

Businesses need to adapt and use the innovative people and ideas within their organizations. Nicola went on to share with delegates how the 'innovation piggies' within her team are vital to the progression and profitability of Science City York, and creative people should be identified and encouraged in every business.

Giving an insight into European pig production, Dutch pig farmer, Hennie Smeenk shared the story of his family farm and how it grew and evolved into a 21st century  modern pig production unit. 

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Expanding from only 15 pigs, he now houses 1,000 sows and has entered into a partnership with Dutch company, De Heus, carrying out feed trials and offering international visits around his unit. Speaking frankly about the struggles he and his family have faced over the years, Hennie also expressed how pig production has evolved on the continent and his thoughts for the future.

For the second year running, Ed Garner of Kantar Worldpanel wowed delegates with an impressive presentation of facts and figures, expertly delivered and appreciatively received.

With pressure on household budgets, delegates saw the evidence in numbers as to how foreign supermarket chains such as Aldi and Lidl, are profiting from consumers that are feeling the pinch.  

Not surprisingly, following the horsemeat scandal, buying habits changed, demonstrating the consumers' quest for traceable, certified meat products. However, months on these trends have slowly reverted back as 'Horse-gate' becomes more of a distant memory.

An array of figures and graphs, from extensive research demonstrated how household incomes were analyzed to determine where shoppers were most likely to do their weekly shop or in contrast were least likely to make a purchase. In addition, the latest marketing strategies and messages adopted by the supermarket 'Big 4' were shared.

Closing the conference, Jim Brisby of Cranswick plc., talked about how the UK needs to differentiate and compete in new ways to produce successful products. Emphasis was placed on the need for transparent, sustainable supply chains that give the consumer confidence and encourage stable buying habits. 

Brisby delivered information on consumption trends and coping strategies and how the need for food security is imperative to avoid supply chain failures in the future, even when the consumer is under financial pressure.

"Given the challenges we have seen in the meat supply industries over the last 12 months, it was important this year, more than ever, that we had speakers to provoke innovative concepts accessible to the pork supply chain and I am satisfied that the conference did exactly that," says Walling.