Pig industry options outlined

The keynote speaker of the forum, Group CEO and Managing Director of the SunPork Group Professor Robert van Barneveld. Narrandera Shire Council’s Manager Development and Environment Helen Ryan. DPI Development Officer (Pigs) Jayce Morgan.

A line-up of speakers offered advice, opinions and industry forecasts at the porcine industry forum facilitated by the Narrandera Shire Council at the Narrandera Ex servicemen’s Club last Thursday.

The forum attracted a considerable crowd as attendees gathered to hear DPI Development Officer (Pigs) Jayce Morgan, Group CEO and Managing Director of the SunPork Group Professor Robert van Barneveld and the Narrandera Shire Council’s Manager Development and Environment Helen Ryan discuss the possibilities and challenges of the porcine industry in Australia and the potential for its development in Narrandera.

Ms Morgan talked at length about the physical hurdles that needed to be overcome with pig production.

“If you’re going to consider diversification, you need to think about why you would do it. Pigs aren’t something that you just jump into; you’ve got to have a reason to do it, you’ve got to see a future in it, and you’ve got to have the resources,” she said.

“Again and again, it comes back to site selection. You can’t just start some things anywhere; you’ve got to consider all of the downstream impacts.” Ms Morgan warned that there were hurdles in beginning a piggery. Would-be pig farmers needed to consider effluent disposal, feed options and access to abattoirs.

“Pig manure’s got good phosphorus content. If you’re a farmer, it can be a useful resource. But if you don’t manage it properly it’s also a pollutant, and it causes issues.”

“If you don’t put your effluent dams in the right spot it can have seepage to groundwater. Councils and the EPA get very technical about stuff like this. If you’re filling out a development application, this is an area where you’ve got to be all over it,” Ms Morgan said.

“About 50 to 80 per cent of pigs produced in NSW go interstate, into Victoria, for processing. So we have a huge gap in terms of processing capacity in NSW.” Ms Morgan also said that an efficient pig farmer needed to be detail-orientated and prepared to invest properly.

“They’re hard on infrastructure. If you’re going to build anything for pigs, it’s got to be tough, and that’s where the cost comes in. Pigs also don’t sweat; they need cooling systems. If you’re going to run pigs outdoors you need to really think about variable climate, and look into what you can do,” Ms Morgan said. Despite discussing the hurdles, Ms Morgan was quite positive about the industry.

“I get inquiry from local councils and from local people, complaints about pig farms, and this is the first time I’ve ever been involved with a council that are actually inviting people to go into pigs or to consider pigs.

“I think it’s very encouraging. Even though we’re in a trough, I’d like to think we’ve turned a corner and that councils actually can see the benefit of industry like the pork industry. They do have a big employment potential and they are a very efficient food producer,” Ms Morgan said.

Prof van Barneveld said people considering entering the pork industry needed to know that it’s “currently stuffed” , but if they were starting from scratch then that was probably not a bad thing.

“By the time you come up, things might have recovered,” he said. “You have to be aware of the cost of feed and your exposure to drought. All of these things have contributed to the current boom and bust cycle.”

Prof van Barneveld talked at length about the supply chain and structure of the SunPork company, as well as some of the issues that the company faced, even when operating on such a large scale.

“Comparative cost of production; we are behind the eight ball in Australia. Energy, labour, we’re going to have a lot of trouble keeping up with that worldwide, and there’s nothing we can do about it. So we have to have something else to offer.

“When you talk about challenges, matching pig supply to market growth is a challenge and this is relevant to diversifying your income if you’re ever thinking about getting involved in the pork industry. If you want to produce 1000 pigs a week, you need about $25 million in capital. Simple.”

“You also have to be conscious of the fact that 1000 pigs a week nationally are enough to crash the price. You don’t just go and put them down; you have to have secure markets, you have to manage that.

“You also need to be cognisant of the fact that it takes two years minimum between when you decide to do it and you actually sell your first pig. A lot can change in that time period.”

“In the last two years we’ve gone from record highs to record lows in pig prices,” Prof van Barneveld said. He offered a broad, frank and humorous insight into the pig industry, noting that increased productivity in more recent years had led to an oversupply in meat.

“I think we are a victim of our own success, to some extent. We have improved our rate of genetic gain and the cost is it’s caught us off guard.”

“With our current oversupply problem, it’s not imports that caused that. Imports are high, they’re about 45 per cent of all the pork we eat in Australia, they go up down a little bit, but they’re pretty much where they need to be.”

“It’s not imports that are our problem. Everybody has a decent pig on the ground, and everybody’s two or three kilos heavier in their carcass; that is a massive amount of extra pork on the market. And it caught us off guard.” Prof van Barneveld said he believed the best way to currently enter the pig market was through acquisition.

“Your path of least resistance to entry is through acquisition. Find somebody who’s going out; it’s good for everybody. You give them some relief, you might have new eyes and capital, and you’re not having a glut of pigs onto the market.”

He also raised the possibilities of pigs using waste products for food, noting that “pigs are very good at converting things that you can’t eat into things that you can. We actually think pigs are a very important part of the food chain.”

Mrs Ryan talked about the different kinds of legislation in NSW that governed what land could or could not be used to develop piggeries, but emphasised that development was highly site-specific.

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