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Rural Insight: Pork industry marks its success

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The pork industry has undergone some major challenges in recent years, facing criticisms from animal welfare advocates on housing and management that the sector has been at pains to address and improve upon.

With this and shifts in consumer demand, more opportunities than ever exist for investors and land owners alike looking at their porcine options.

One of the other challenges faced by pork producers has been the ability of food companies to import pork, ham and bacon products from overseas. But with that has come greater consumer awareness about the value of “NZ grown” and interest in how the pork they buy has been raised.

The New Zealand pork industry has responded to these challenges over provenance and welfare with its PigCare programme, a completely independently audited welfare assurance programme for farmed pigs. 

“The New Zealand pork industry has responded to criticisms and challenges over provenance and animal welfare. We are now seeing more opportunities than ever for investors and land owners alike looking at their porcine options.”

Ian Carter NZ Pork Chairman says PigCare has provided a valuable pathway for the sector to answer concerns raised a decade ago over best welfare practices, and is doing much to set the industry apart from the increasing proportion of imported product now allowed into the country.

He sees the next step being using PigCare to better inform consumers about how the industry has moved in recent years and command greater consumer loyalty with the humane, comprehensive and transparent practices PigCare supports.

Ian Carter says New Zealand’s pork industry has done a sound job punching above its weight against cheaper priced foreign pig product that can now be imported.  

While New Zealand now has only just over 100 pig farmers, they produce a similar amount to a decade ago at about 46,000t a year of product, despite having 140,000 fewer pigs than it did 10 years ago.

“The efficiency gains have been substantial and the industry is made up of very committed, experienced and passionate operators these days.”

Investment in the pig farming sector tends to be limited to those already established and familiar with it. One of the biggest new operations to be established was in Canterbury by NZPork director Ben Voice several years ago. 

He built a green fields development based on a full high health, high tech system with an intense commitment to the New Zealand pork industry. 

While the pig industry has flown below the radar compared to its high earning, high profile dairying cousin, for those committed to it, it has proven to deliver reasonable returns with good cash flow.

“It is possible to own your own farm through owning a piggery, I and others have done it, you just have to have the commitment,” says Ian.

Free range pork has also become more popular among consumers, with high profile brands like Havoc gaining food awards and media attention. For land owners with a smaller block free range pork could hold some appeal as a business option.

“Free range pork has also become more popular among consumers. For land owners with a smaller block free range pork could hold some appeal as a business option.”

For Matakana home stay operators Jo and Rob Barnes pig farming is a side-line business on their “Dented Barn” farm. Alongside a mix of animals the couple also specialise in rare pig breeds on their 36ha block between the coast and Warkworth.  

Originally starting with Wessex Saddleback when they bought the farm three years ago, they moved to include the Berkshire breed, recognised as the “wagyu” of pork with internal fat marbling through the meat. They now have a registered boar “Kaipara View Primetime.” 

Fruit and bread contracts provide valuable feed sources to which they add grain for protein.

Ian Carter cautions land owners contemplating a free range pork operation to closely examine the issues that arise running pigs outside, and having to supply 100% of their feed and place it into an outdoor environment.

“The fact is that grass is not a feed for pigs, so you are tasked with bringing in a lot of feed, and there are issues there around impact on land, and you will have to consider council requirements including seeking a resource consent for this activity.”

The pig industry has done much to respond to the challenges presented in the past decade, and Ian Carter says he is proud it now ranks well in consumer perception surveys on its treatment of animals and the environment.

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