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Can swine producers cope with volatile prices?

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How can swine producers cope with volatile prices?

Written by Steffen Hansen
Pork producers are always looking for ways to improve productivity. The feed costs and pork prices seem to be even more volatile than they appeared to be. So in that context, the focus on swine productivity is as relevant as ever before. The Danish organisation SEGES held a webinar where they focused on improved productivity through management changes.

To give you an idea of pig performance is in Denmark, table 1 below provides some actual figures.

Table 1. Figures for animal performance in Danish pig production

Year

2020

2019

2018

2017

DWG (30-110kg), g

1021

982

966

962

FI, FUsw, g/day

2.77

2.70

2.66

2.68

FCR (FUsw/kg)*

2.53

2.60

2.62

2.64

Weight, kg

90.4

87.6

86.2

86.9

Lean meat

61.6

61.4

61.1

60.7

*One kg feed for grower-finisher pigs contains in the range of 1.03 – 1.07 Feed units/kg feed

Does the feed composition set the limit?

It is well-known that the protein sources varies in digestability and the composition of amino acids. However, it is tempting to include cheaper protein sources in the feed because the lower price tag is appealing. Occasionally alternatives to soybean meal like sunflower meal and rapeseed products have a lower price. Theoretically, pig performance should not be affected when the feed formulation considers the changed digestibility and amino acid profile. In the SEGES webinar, the presenter showed one case where an increased rate of inclusion of soybean meal replaced a part of the sunflower meal.


The addition of more synthetic lysine furthermore increased the content of lysine in the diet. As a result, the diet was slightly more expensive, but the profit per pig increased by 20 DKK/pig. However, things are moving fast in the pig industry. Since the webinar, pork prices have plummetted by around 0.4 EUR per kg, and feed prices have increased further. The volatile prices and the case from the webinar tell us how crucial it is to monitor the net profit per pig constantly, given the cost and composition of the feed. In other words, a simulation of various combinations of feed costs and pig performance scenarios is a must for the optimisation of the financial result of the finisher pigs.

Increased feed intake and better feed conversion?

Liquid feeding is very popular in Danish pig production. There are pros and cons in a comparison between liquid and dry feeding. A widespread perception of liquid feed is that the feeding method can provide a better feed conversion because it is possible to have a restrictive feeding in contrast to dry feeding. In 2020 pork prices were very high, and as a result, many farmers tried to increase carcass weight by increasing the amount of feed offered to the pigs some weeks before slaughter. The logical expectation of the feed conversion was that it would be worse. The table below shows the results from one farm trial.

Table 2. Effect of increased feed intake and protein content on pig performance

Period 2019 1st Q 2020 2nd Q 2020 - 1st Q 2021
FI Finishing period FUsw/day 3.2 3.4 3.4
Starter diet composition* 131/9.2 136/9.8 136/9.9
Finishing diet composition* 125/7.8 130/8.3 135/8.7
DWG, g 1046 1130 1122
FCR 2.39 2.38 2.37
Carcass weight, kg 89.6 92.4 93.6 
Lean meat, % 59.9 60.8 60.5 

*: gram digestible crude protein per feed unit swine/gram digestible lysine per feed unit swine

The results show that the increased feed intake in the finishing period positively affected the feed conversion. However, we cannot conclude that increased feed intake improves feed conversion because the protein content also increased. On the other hand, the results are thought-provoking as they are not in line with the expectations. In the webinar, the presenter suggested that genetic progress maybe is part of the explanation. The increased daily weight gain also reduces the pig´s need for maintenance energy. The results are also a clear example of the classical limitations of farm trials. Because there is no control group and the farm cannot handle more than one treatment group, it is impossible to explain precisely why the pig performance improved. Nevertheless, the results from this farm trial emphasise how important it is for swine producers to test different feeding strategies and feeding compositions to get an idea of how the pigs perform under other circumstances.

Adaptation to feed and pork prices

The two examples above clearly show a high risk of jeopardising the financial result if the swine producer continues with the same feed composition and feeding strategy when feed and pork prices change. For this reason, it is highly recommendable to simulate the consequences of variation in feed and pork prices on the financial results.

 

What I learned from pig webinars during the Covid-19 pandemic

Webinars have certainly increased in popularity during the Covid-19 pandemics. The big question is whether the webinar trend will continue its' rise in popularity or quietly disappear? You can read my verdict later in this post, but I will first describe my experiences with webinars ranging from excellent to poor. The webinar trend is a natural product of the limitations in the offline face to face communication with the Covid-19 pandemic. Numerous agricultural exhibitions worldwide were cancelled during 2020, and even in 2021, we still see that a third wave make severe limitations. Personal meetings with existing or potential clients have, of course, also been critically affected.

A new tool for marketing

Tonnes of articles have described how the pandemic has forced people to work from home. The pandemic also affected the marketing efforts of the companies in the pig industry. Many companies have tried to figure out how to reach out to potential clients when they cannot meet in the "real" world — one of the digital tools to achieve that are the webinar format. As a result, webinars have seen a high increase in popularity among many industry players. Suppliers of feed ingredients, genetics companies, and pig magazines are just some examples that have stepped up and increased their webinar activities. Free webinars with tonnes of updated information on a variety of pig topics. So what's not to like?

Information for free?

Webinars were initially perceived as a digital replacement for real conferences, but people have realised that webinars possess other valuable characteristics. For example, webinar organisers always ask for contact details. So, when you come across adverbs with "free" webinars, this is not entirely true because you will always pay with your contact details. However, you would also expect that company people at an exhibition booth would ask for your name in the offline world.

Content and dialogue

What about the content in the webinars? Are webinars the right way to present scientific information, or are there more suitable ways? One of the unique aspects of a webinar is that it enables real-time communication with the viewers. The presenter can ask the audience questions and vice versa. In this way, webinars can be a powerful and dynamic tool to convey commercial messages. Unfortunately, quite many webinar presenters do not have the understanding of involving the audience. Some presenters do not even ask questions, whereas others ask irrelevant questions. If the presenters do not utilise the dialogue option, the conventional pre-recorded video format is more suitable.

Disturbing technical issues

Internet download speeds are generally increasing everywhere, but it seems as if some webinar organisers neglect that internet upload speeds usually are much slower than download speeds. It is not unusual to experience presenters logging on from home, make a presentation with unacceptable digital distortion in both sound and picture. In these cases, it appears as if the webinar organisers are non-professional and forget how valuable the viewers' time is.


Crystal clear picture from the Pig Progress webinar "Gut health."

Variable presentation performances

During the presentations, you also expect a flawless flow from one slide to another. It makes an awkward impression when the presenter multiple times needs to say, "please, next slide". The webinar software solution should allow the presenter to control this to give a sleek presentation.
The presentation quality of individual speakers varies a lot precisely as in the offline world. Scientifically talented people can be very poor presenters, and the opposite is also the case. As webinars are live, it is even more critical the presenter has a proper flow because it is impossible to undo the presentation. The webinar organisers must bear in mind that there is an opportunity to excel and show a high degree of knowledge. If it is impossible to perform without technical disturbances and a stuttering presentation, the conventional video format is an alternative, however, with some limitations.

Scientific credibility

The viewers must, to some extent, accept that the presenter's goal is to mention situations where their products can benefit the swine production. If the right balance between the description of the issue and how the solution solves it, the presenter can subtly enlighten the viewers. If the presenters do not possess this ability, you quickly get the impression that they want to use their products no matter what.

Verdict

Webinars offer excellent possibilities to reach out to potential and existing clients. However, every rose has its thorns: The quality of the scientific content in the pig-related webinars is variable, and the technical quality suffers from time to time. In addition, the webinar dialogue is often quite limited or do not contribute to the overall information level.
The webinar must provide value for the viewer to be relevant. Each viewer has paid for the webinar with contact information and spent valuable time. If the viewer's perception of the webinar isn't positive, it may negatively influence the viewers' impression of the company.

Future room for improvements

Many webinar platforms pick up a lot of valuable data during the webinar, such as basic information like the number of attendees, if and when the viewer steps out, how many invitees watch the webinar and much more. Companies who do not realise that they must invest time studying and analysing data from their webinars will soon be impatient due to lack of marketing effect. If the first webinar does not turn out so successfully as anticipated, other approaches could be tested and see if changes impact the result.
The webinar format will most likely mature as the organisers get more and more experience. However, it would be no surprise if most companies significantly reduce their efforts spent on webinars as soon as the restrictions of the Covid-19 pandemics gradually disappear.