Creating better pig needs industry input

Consumers, packers and producers must be involved

DES MOINES, Iowa — Hog genetic companies in northern Europe have been focused on boosting feed efficiency.

However, even though that will remain the biggest concern for most hog producers in the future, other characteristics are likely to play a bigger role, says Bjarne Holm, Topigs Norsvin’s chief development officer.

Vertical integration and big producers’ closer connection with packers is behind the change.

“I think that will drive a more balanced approach to pig genetics,” Holm said during the announcement of the merger of Topigs and Norsvin at last month’s World Pork Expo.

Holm said pig genetics can be used to provide a pork package that contains more meat and better meat that will meet consumer demands, packer needs and farmer wants.

“You can’t only select for what’s important for the producer any more. You need to include the whole value chain when you create the pig of the future,” said Holm.

The Topigs Norsvin merger creates a company with revenues of $179 million US and a big presence in Europe and North America. Both founding companies are farmer-owned and backed by farmer-owned packing plants and a feed supplier.

The company’s headquarters will be in the Netherlands.

Holm said European farmers’ devotion to and success with super-efficient hog production is partly driven by high feed costs.

“Typically feed is three times higher … than here in North America,” Holm said in an interview.

“That has put a lot of pressure on us as a genetics provider to build a genetic program to really focus on improving feed efficiency.”

He said 60 to 70 percent of the costs of producing a pig come from feed, which means maximizing conversion is key. However, feed efficiency needs to be understood in a comprehensive manner rather than based just on the slaughter hogs that make it to market.

Topigs Norsvin is focusing on “total feed efficiency,” which in-cludes the pigs and the amount of pork that reaches the market from a farm, including the ones that died before reaching market weight.

“It’s expensive to have a pig grow half way through its life and then die,” said Holm.

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