Danish farmers aim high at the Herning Congress

I was in Denmark last week – to be precise I was in Jutland in the small town of Herning. The conference centre there is the venue for a gathering of Danish pig farmers who are treated to a packed programme of experts and speakers who  inform them of; what has been happening in technology and pig production policies, about best practice on the farm, and where the industry needs to focus if it is to remain competitive in the years ahead. So it was that I mixed with +2000 pig farmers and their employees (almost half of the sector) at the Herning Congress for two days. There wasn’t a BBQ to be seen but the hot dog stands (courtesy of Tican and Danish Crown) make an appearance late at night on the first day after the evening’s dinner and speeches are over. The theme of the 2013 Herning Congress in Denmark was “more from less” and I have written up the details of what was presented at the Congress in the October issue of Whole Hog –  and you can see our two page feature on the Congress at www.porkinfo.com

But let me just give you a flavour of some of the things I heard…

According to the Danish Agriculture and Food Council  (DAFC) the structural development of Danish pig production means that the number of pig farms will fall to just over 2,200 in 2022, whilst the number of sows will increase slightly by 50,000 to 1,086,000. At the same time, increasing productivity will mean that piglet production will increase to 36.4 million and finisher production to 23.8 million in 2022 or 4 million more pigs. Clearly, that’s certainly more from less. I do not know of any pig industry in the world that has such stretching targets. The Danes are aiming to wean 34.5 piglets/sow/year by 2022!

The Danes are proud of their track record over the past 30 years. In that time production has increased from c. 10 million to 30 million pigs whilst the environmental impact has decreased. Two pigs are produced today, claims DAFC, with the same environmental impact as a single pig in 1985.

But in case people got carried away, the Chairman of the Danish Pig Research Centre Lindghart Nielson reminded  everyone at Herning that Denmark is one of the most expensive countries in which to finish pigs. In both Germany and Sweden, Nielson claimed, national subsidies of between DKK 30-40 per pig exist for finishing pigs. German producers of finished pigs have benefitted further from Germany’s VAT regulations (DKK 30-35 per pig) and Swedish producers have been granted an EU subsidy of SEK 1,000 per sow, or approximately DKK 35 per pig.” According to Nielson an over-zealous penalty structure operates in Denmark for farmers who don’t comply with health or welfare-related faults and that is discriminating against the Danish pig sector. “We’re already one of the countries in Europe where it is most expensive to produce because of levies, taxes and administrative burdens. Therefore it seems completely illogical that we withdraw our pig producers’ farm subsidies when all other countries’ take no action when the same non-compliances occur. Perhaps our politicians should instead use their energy on creating fairer market conditions,” said Nielsen.

One of the most intriguing features of the Herning Declaration was the desire to involve employees in the pig industry in the financing of new investment the workers. Proposals to seek as much as 3% of a worker’s salary as a contribution to investment have been mooted and although these have not been accepted yet it is clear that the worker’s unions are in favour of the idea in principle.

So, if you want to know where to look to see some ambitious targets for a pig sector’s development – a visit to Denmark would be a good place to start.

Dr John Strak, Editor Whole Hog