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Difficult times for Danish pig farmers

The mood in Danish pig farming has darkened, with both swine farmers and the supply chain seeing dwindling evidence of a bright future.

So much became clear at the recent Svinekongres, a Danish Congress held in Herning, Denmark, 23 and 24 October 2018. The mood there contrasted with the pig census reports that have been published in Denmark in the last few years – all those livestock surveys have indicated that the Danish breeding herd and inventory were expanding and the consensus was that farmers were optimistic about the future.

Blue skies are nowhere in sight at the moment for Denmark’s pig producers. Photo: Henk Riswick
Blue skies are nowhere in sight at the moment for Denmark’s pig producers. Photo: Henk Riswick

The message was clearly voiced in a presentation to the media by Søren Søndergaard, vice chairman of the sector board of the Danish Agriculture and Food Council (DAFC). He has his own farm near Randbøl near Vejle. A similar message was offered by Christian Fink Hansen the sector director for pig production at the Danish Pig Research Centre SEGES.

Svinekongres: half of the pig farms in Denmark represented

In total, the Herning congress included 65 different presentations, covering the technical aspects of pig production at breeding and finishing stages, and the economics and politics of the industry. The number of delegates was around 2,000. Danish farmers attending probably represented more than half of the pig farms in Denmark and much more of the total output. There was also a sprinkling of visitors and presenters from other countries.

At the congress, Mr Søndergaard announced the publication of a new strategy for Danish pig farming for the period 2018-20 (see below). His view was that the Danes had to aim to be the ‘champions of European pig production’.

More competitive slaughter pig supply chain

Mr Søndergaard also warned that the Danes needed a more competitive slaughter pig supply chain and that they had to focus more on leadership skills on the farm. He pointed out that it was not unusual for Danish pig farms to have as many as 10 employees and that these employees needed to include skilled young people.

The strategy presentation was upbeat and contained all the right buzz words but Mr Søndergaard’s remarks about the current state of the industry in Denmark were less positive. He admitted that the relatively low price for pigs in 2018 had led to ‘very difficult times for Danish pig farmers’.

Drought leading to poor harvests

Their situation had been made worse by the drought and very poor harvests in northern Europe in 2018. Many Danish pig farms grow much of their own cereal requirement and the shortage of feed grains and significant increases in feed prices had hit farmers’ pockets hard, according to Søndergaard.

What does the Danish pig industry look like in the longer run?

Furthermore, Mr Søndergaard admitted that the expansion of the Danish pig breeding herd and inventory in 2017 and 2018 had been ‘optimistic’. He noted that there had been several bankruptcies in the summer of 2108 and he stated that as many as 1 in 5 Danish pig farms are in immediate risk of bankruptcy.

When asked how he expected the Danish pig industry to deal with the challenges of the UK’s Brexit – Mr Søndergaard answered that he ‘hoped’ all would work out well whilst conceding that any new UK-USA trade deal in a post-Brexit would raise new competitive threats from North American producers. But he thought that the Danes would be competitive.

New strategy for Danish pig industry

As indicated above, the DAFC also announced a new strategy for the Danish pig industry for 2018-20. In order to get where the Danes wish to be, they identified 3 strategic priorities: competitive pig production; sustainability and certification; animal welfare and social acceptance.

The vision:

  • The best way to become future proof is to be the leader. Although Danish pig production has made significant advances, the industry cannot stand still. The Danish industry aims to set the direction itself.
  • The Danish pigs must be world class, with high levels of animal welfare, food safety, traceability and sustainability;
  • Use of the latest knowledge and technology must ensure competitive production based on ‘more with less’.

The mission:

  • To ensure Danish pig producers have the best framework and conditions for economic and sustainable growth;
  • To ensure that the latest knowledge and tools are made available to every single farmer;
  • To bring about more pride and social acceptance of Danish production.