Numbers lead to pork production success

I love being a sponge. That's key to being a journalist — just soak up and absorb all the information that swirls around you. Spitting out that information into discernible articles or blogs can sometimes be the difficult part.

This week I had the pleasure of taking in a couple of meetings, where a lot of great information was shared, and I hope to present a couple takeaways from those meetings.

Though I’m a “word man,” numbers intrigue me, and there were some good numbers thrown around at the AgStar Swine Outlook Meeting and the Hubbard Feeds Swine Production Meeting.

One number that jumped out at me was 1.8. From all the noise we hear about consumer demands driving the way their food is being raised — antibiotic-free, humanely raised, vegan-fed, dolphin-safe — you would think the Whole Foods and Applegate Farms of the world would have a larger piece of the pie. However, that specialized, niche market is only 1.8% of the U.S. market. “Don’t kid yourself, it’s not big,” says Brad Freking, CEO of New Fashion Pork, based in Jackson, Minn.

Though it may not be a big slice of the consumer market, Freking’s hog production operation is hoping to capture a part of it for themselves by starting “Old Fashion Pork.” Freking says OFP’s 1,400-sow operation will be GAP1 (Good Agricultural Practices) certified, verified and audited that the pigs will be raised with no antibiotics, humanely raised and vegan-fed. Concrete pour will begin next month in Wisconsin, building OPF’s foundation in this niche market.

Freking admitted designing a barn to meet the standards has been challenging to say the least, spending over a year on the design, finalizing on a positive-pressure filtered barn. “But, we’re doing it right,” he says. “We’re kind of excited to see where this goes. … I believe this will be a growing niche, but it is just that — a niche.”

Other numbers of interest to the hog industry center around what is happening with the herd itself. Producers are getting better all the time, as Daryl Timmerman, senior financial services executive on AgStar’s Swine Lending Team, points out that U.S. herds are showing an annual average growth of 1.5% more pigs per litter. “That’s a lot more pigs going to town,” he says. “Combine that with heavier weights, I don’t think we’re going to see a significant retracement in weights, combine all these together and we’re going to see an overall increase in pork production.”

Timmerman looks at 2016 shaping up with a 2% breeding herd increase, to 6.1 million sow herd; 1.7% increase in forecast for pigs weaned per litter and the industry to at least hold, if not improve, on 8% wean-to-finish mortality. Just running the raw numbers, that would show an increase of about 4.5 million pigs year-over-year. Add 0.5% heavier carcass weights, and that equates to 4.25% more pork annually. “That’s just the numbers,” he says. “No one needs to be concerned that we’re not going to fill those plants” speaking of the new and expanding pork processing plants coming online in the next couple years.

Timmerman puts the current packer capacity at 2.43 million head a week, “and if we’re going to have 3.5% more pigs, that pushes us into the 2.5 million pigs a week range, it looks like things are going to get tight for this fall.”

Looking at those increases in pork product, and with exports as they are, Timmerman says the industry will need domestic demand to step up to find home for the additional pork.

But, by the mere definition of pork producers, they produce pork. Improving that production of pork, or the efficiency of that, can go a long way in helping producers weather low-price cycles.

Tim Loula, DVM with Swine Vet Center, suggests producers “make a plan of what you’re going to fix. So you’re better production and lower costs, more efficient.” Everyone needs goals, and Loula set some for producers to shoot for: 30 pigs per sow per year, less prewean mortality, less than a percent nursery death loss, 2% finishing death loss and 2 pounds average daily gain at finishing. “Those are not pie-in-the-sky and dreaming of those numbers, those are really attainable benchmarks,” he says.

“Every day you need to get up and wonder how can I get better,” Loula challenges producers.

That should be a goal for all of us to aspire to.

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