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Weaner exports continue to grow

Although the July pig census revealed only minor changes in the size of the Danish herd, the continuing rise in exports of live pigs from Denmark remains an area of concern, with its consequent reduction in domestic slaughtering and exports of pig meat. The industry continued to explore initiatives to boost pig finishing capacity within Denmark, while renewing its calls on government to reduce the distorting effects of current environmental legislation.

The pig census undertaken at the beginning of July showed a small decline in pig numbers in Denmark compared to the previous year. Encouragingly, the size of the breeding herd remained stable and sow numbers were virtually unchanged. The main decline was in the number of finishing pigs held, no doubt a reflection of the increasing level of weaner exports.

Other data showed that the number of pig herds in Denmark was currently around 3,600 – compared to 4,600 in 2011. There are now just 2,000 sow producers remaining in Denmark, the lower figure reflecting the exodus of a significant number of smaller producers ahead of the new EU pig welfare regulations, which came into force on 1st January 2013.

Exports of weaners from Denmark continued to grow in the first six months of 2013. Although exports to Germany remained at a high level, increasing numbers were exported for finishing in Poland, where there has been a significant reduction in the sow herd in recent years. This trend had a knock-on effect on the number of pigs slaughtered in Danish abattoirs, which declined in the first half of 2013.

The decline in the number of pigs slaughtered also led to a fall in Danish pig meat exports. UK exports fell from 120,000 to 107,000 tonnes in the first half year and shipments to a number of other key export markets also declined.

However, within the EU, shipments to Poland increased, largely influenced by the increasing export of weaners. Tonnages sold to China and Russia increased – the latter being influenced by action taken by the Russian veterinary authorities in blocking imports from factories in the US and Germany.

Some months ago, Danish Crown and Tican announced initiatives to support investments in building new housing for finishing pigs, in order to help stem the flow of weaners leaving Denmark.

More recently, the union representing Danish Crown’s slaughterhouse workers asked their members to vote on a proposal to sacrifice a percentage of their pay and pension over the next four years, to finance an investment of DKK 600 in pig production in Denmark. Together with other initiatives, it is hoped this would eventually boost the company’s supplies by 3 million pigs per annum and would therefore secure the future of the current workforce and lead to the creation of new employment opportunities in the industry.

At the time of writing, news had just been received that a majority of the workforce had turned down the proposal, with the result the company will now have to look at other solutions for matching its production capacity to the availability of pigs.

As previously reported, the lack of investment in modern pig finishing capacity in Denmark has been a major factor behind the growth of weaner exports – exacerbated by the cost burdens of strict environmental legislation imposed on Danish pig farmers, which have placed them at a competitive disadvantage to their German counterparts.

During August, the Danish government put forward a large number of possible projects to help reduce the country’s carbon emissions, which may help Denmark to reach its target of 40% reduction in emissions by 2020 compared to the 1990 level. The EU’s target is a 20% reduction compared to 1990.

The government has identified four categories through which the cuts can be made: transport, environment, energy and agriculture. Among the proposals affecting agriculture is for a tax to be levied on all livestock manure that has not been treated at a biogas plant. An alternative proposal is that all slurry tanks should have a fixed cover and all slurry from new housing units should be acidified in order to reduce ammonia emissions.

In a response to the government’s climate plan, the Vice-Chairman of the Danish Agriculture & Food Council, Lars Hvidtfeldt, said: “We’ve already delivered a massive improvement and as an industry, we can provide some of the world’s most climate friendly food products. But the measures that the government has proposed in their climate plan will cost agriculture dear and will impact on employment, exports and the economy in general. “

He pointed out that because of the necessary longer term measures in the environmental area, there are no quick solutions available. However, the industry is working on just such initiatives within research, technology development as well as operational and management solutions that can further reduce environmental and climate impact.

New figures published by the Danish Agriculture & Food Council point to the fact that agriculture is now far ‘greener’ and more eco-efficient than in 1990. Within 23 years, agriculture has succeeded in reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 23%. At the same time, emissions of phosphorus and nitrogen have declined, whereas food production has increased by 18 per cent.