Denmark’s pig producers are aware that they must change their production methods and continue to improve animal welfare conditions if they are to meet consumer demands and impending legislation. Despite the challenge, they remain optimistic and have a positive view of the future despite facing a year full of uncertainties.

 “I am sure there will be a number of people leaving the industry because they have just had enough and want to get out, but we will also see newcomers – and I believe they will be starting with a better foundation,” says Jan Laustsen, director of trade and market relations at the Danish Agriculture and Food Council.

 Speaking after attending a meeting of the country’s pig industry leaders, Laustsen said: “It’s all about margins and we will be focusing on that as we work hard to keep ahead of the competition. The government’s vision for the country’s agricultural industry as a whole is growth – and the pig sector’s strategy for the next five years is to live up to that vision.”

 Producers’ challenges  

He believes that the immediate challenges facing Danish farmers include the environment, particularly the new EU water framework directive, keeping up with ever-tightening animal welfare legislation and developing new products and new technologies.

The sector is currently converting its breeding systems from stalls to group housing to meet EU legislation banning farrowing stalls, due to come into force in 2013. A recent survey revealed that at least 70% of the country’s pig producers already keep their pregnant sows in group systems, while 50% of those who had not yet converted had either already secured the necessary environmental approval to do so, or had submitted an application for the approval.

Of the remainder, all those who intend to stay in pig production indicated that they would be applying soon for permission to make alterations to their units.

Danish optimism is built on its past successes in adapting production, processing and export fields to meet new requirements, as well as its research and development (R&D) work, which is continually producing new products, new methods and new technologies to help producers operate more efficiently, produce more and increase sales.

This positive attitude also comes from a commitment to working together, sharing knowledge that will help the industry to move forward while, at the same time, focusing on what is happening in other countries and incorporating any successful developments there into their own systems.

 Investing in the pig sector  

As one industry observer pointed out recently, the Danes regard research expenditure as a business investment, in spite of recent economic and legislative difficulties.

This was more than evident at the annual conference organised by the Danish Pig Research Centre (Videncenter for Svineproduktion) in Herning towards the end of 2010, which attracted more than 2,000 pig farmers and workers.

Conference speakers focused on spelling out the results and recommendations from the latest practical pig research projects conducted by the centre to help improve pig production.

These included short presentations on topics such as sow servicing facilities that work, how to obtain good yields from gilts, effective gilt management, good housing and production systems for the future, as well as the benefits of home mixing feed.

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Several of these papers were presented in English to cater for the increasing number of workers from Russia and Eastern Europe who work in Danish pig units.This immigrant labour is becoming so important to the sector that many farms have designated English as the common language for the workforce.

Pig Research Centre director, Dr Nicolaj Nørgaard, commented that the focus for R&D was now very much on trying to help the pig sector reduce its impact on the environment by reducing ammonia emissions and lowering greenhouse gas emissions. It is also working on projects to help farmers improve animal welfare while, at the same time, increasing production.

“We are now looking more at helping producers ensure they have more piglets alive after five days rather than just at increasing the size of the litter,” says Dr Nørgaard. “We are also working on producing sows that have better mothering qualities and can look after at least 14 piglets until weaning, while achieving the same feed conversion rate on less feed as before to reduce costs and emissions.”

Genomic selection   

During the conference, details of a new breeding innovation - genomic selection – developed by researchers at the Research Centre and the University of Aarhus’s Faculty of Agricultural Science at Foulum was released. The research uses data from DNA testing when producing a breeding index to improve the chances of identifying boars with better meat quality, higher feeding efficiency, faster growth and increased lean meat, as well as sows with better maternal characteristics.

“Our expectation is that this new method will help us improve animal welfare and production, as well as the quality of our pigs over the coming years,” says Dr Nørgaard.

Admitting that all this work costs money, he told a press briefing at the congress that pig farmers were saying they could not reduce the amount spent on R&D, because that was what would help them ensure that they could get out of the mess they were in.

The director pointed out, however, that the pig industry was keen to ensure that both the government and the public recognised what the pig industry was doing to improve animal welfare and reduce its effect on the environment, as well as well as contributing to the country’s economy.

 Promoting pig sector advances  

In 2009, the Danish pig industry’s total production value was DKR 54 billion (US$9.5 billion) and it was responsible for providing a large percentage of the country’s export trade and jobs in rural areas. However, a recent survey by TNS Gallup for E-Types, revealed that while 78% of Danes agreed, or mostly agreed that modern technology played a big role in Danish pig production, 42% of the general population was unaware of what the industry was doing on the environmental front - three out of 10 Danes did not know about the industry’s work on the animal welfare front.

This concerns Danish Pig Production chairman Lindhart B Nielsen, who says the survey shows how important it is for the industry to become better at telling the public what it is doing. He has urged producers to take every opportunity to present the positive side of pig farming.

This should include, for example, more information about its ongoing work to develop cost-effective environmental technologies to reduce odour, ammonia, phosphate and carbon dioxide emissions. The industry also need to educate the public on how it is also spending money on research to enhance animal welfare, without harming the country’s competitiveness in world markets.