1. Challenges ahead
Although the January census in Denmark showed a relatively stable position regarding pig numbers, most industry pundits forecast a difficult year ahead. Danish pig producers’ fortunes are inextricably linked to export markets, where it is expected that increased supplies from the US will put pressure on the Asian markets in the months ahead. The Russian market remained closed to EU pig meat exporters but a recently announced EU scheme for Private Storage aids will bring welcome relief to a depressed EU market.
At first reading, the results of the Denmark’s January pig census suggest a relatively stable situation for Denmark’s farmers. Total pig numbers were slightly higher than the previous year. The main category increase was for pigs below 50 kg, which may be explained by some of the difficulties experienced by weaner exporters in the period before the census took place. The more critical figures for the breeding herd were close to last year’s levels.
However, the Danish Pig Research Centre forecast that producers’ profitability will significantly decline during 2015. Prices showed a significant reduction in the latter months of 2014 and the benefits of lower feed costs were gradually eroded as the year came to a close.
Rabobank forecast a ‘cooling down’ of global markets with a significant recovery in US production. The re-opening of the Russian market to EU pig meat exports remains elusive. During January, there appeared to be a realistic chance that the Russian market would re-open for a number of Member States, including Denmark, France and Holland, for products such as fats and trim for the Russian meat processing sector. This development was conditional on inspections to be carried out by the Russian veterinary authorities and the ability of those countries to document that their pig herds were free of African Swine Fever. These hopes were soon dashed by the EU Commission insisting that they were unable to countenance any ‘bilateral’ trade agreements between individual Member States and the Russian authorities.
However, in the absence of a settlement enabling resumption of exports to the Russian market, the EU Commission did agree to introduce a scheme for support for certain pig meat products put into private storage. Details were emerging at the time of writing and it is hoped that this measure will provide a much needed boost to market prices.
Pig welfare has remained hotly debated issue within Denmark since the appointment of the MEP, Dan Jorgensen, as Danish Minister of Agriculture last January. Following a Welfare Summit in March, the pig industry committed to a number of new initiatives to ensure continuing improvement in welfare standards, such as the gradual introduction of free farrowing and phasing out of castration to reduce risk of ‘boar taint’.
New research to improve piglet survival
In January, the Danish Pig Research Centre launched a new research programme to reduce piglet mortality, both stillborn piglets and those dying shortly after birth. Trials will be undertaken to establish best practice in the management at this critical stage of the piglets’ lives. While average pre-weaning mortality is around the 20% mark, many herds achieve much better piglet survival rates and will also provide a model for improving performance across the industry
Denmark joined with Germany and the Netherlands in signing a joint declaration calling for current welfare legislation to be enforced more strictly and consistently applied across the EU. The Danish Minister of Agriculture also announced plans to host a two day international Welfare Conference in Copenhagen at the end of April – 'Improving pig welfare - what are the ways forward?'
The increased presence of MRSA CC398 in Danish pig herds also attracted a lot of public scrutiny in 2014. Although the presence of CC398 in pigs is an insignificant foodborne risk, it does represent a potential health risk to those coming into close and frequent contact with the animals.
The Danish Pig Research Centre has already publicised new on-farm hygiene protocols to reduce the risk of the bacterium spreading from the production environment and will invest a further DKK2.4m in further research projects to improve understanding of factors causing the spread of MRSA, leading to further action to minimise any associated risks.
Danish Crown and Tican have just announced an agreement to merge. Statements about the merger have been published on their websites:
The merger is subject to final clearance from the EU and Danish competition authorities.