Farming feature: Capitalising on growth of outdoor pig production
Bury St Edmunds pig consultant looks at what the future may hold for East Anglia’s pig farmers from the mid 2020s
Now that DEFRA Secretary Michael Gove has confirmed plans to continue the Basic Farm Payments scheme until March 2024, farmers have a five year transition period to adjust to post-Brexit farm policy.
There is no doubt that much of this will focus on the environment and arable farmers with access to light, free-draining soils also have an opportunity to capitalise on the growth of outdoor pig production which will also benefit organic matter, soil fertility levels, wildlife and diversification systems and help arable farmers to comply with of the “three crop rule”.
More than 40% of the UK pig breeding herd is now operating outdoors and there is a growing demand for more suitable land to be made available.
Outdoor pig units normally rotate on a two year cycle and are stocked at a rate of around 25 sows per hectare on suitable sandy free draining soils.
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Straw produced on a holding can be returned as farmyard manure reducing the use of artificial fertilisers or chemicals.
Outdoor pig production also provides a useful “break” in arable rotations helping to keep down pest and weed problems with enhanced soil fertility benefiting subsequent arable crops.
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Although outdoor pig fields can become wet during the winter period, providing they are established on suitable free draining soils the land can revert to arable production provided it is kept in Good Agricultural and Environmental Condition (GAEC).
In addition to the soil fertility and rotational benefits, financial returns in the form of rents are generally ahead of equivalent arable levels with rents generally between £700 - £850/hectare with the landowner also receiving the Basic Payment Scheme income as well as straw sold to the pig keeper behind the combine. Income from outdoor pigs is not “drought susceptible” and there are financial benefits to all parties.
Outdoor pig production can be compared to “a three legged stool” with three main essentials being the right type of pigs on suitable quality land looked after by experienced staff. If one of these elements is missing, the stool falls over!
Co-operation between arable and outdoor pig keepers is essential to allow this system of production to flourish and is very much in the public eye, advertising the benefits of the whole high welfare UK pig production system, and outdoor pig units adjacent to main roads can provide the industry as a whole with a valuable and highly visible “Red Tractor” marketing platform.