Roger over and out

Pork CRC Initiatives APN July 2018
By Pork CRC CEO, Dr Roger Campbell
This is likely to be my last Pork CRC Initiatives column for Australian Pork Newspaper, a publication that serves the industry very well.

I finish with Pork CRC July 15, but will be doing some work under another agreement to finalise the 20 or so projects still active with Pork CRC. Of course I will ensure all relevant outcomes get to you. I may also continue as interim CEO of APRIL for a period, but this is still to be sorted.

It has been a pleasure working in the pork industry, particularly in R&D at the CRC.

Over a long career I’ve seen quite a few ups and downs, but few harder than what some are experiencing at the moment.

The industry has changed markedly since I became involved as a researcher in 1973 and while I keep harping about improving productivity and competitiveness, the progress has been quite spectacular and our top producers are world class and as innovative as any in the world. The best production mangers I have met over my time are all Australian.

Naming piglets

When I started with Bunge in 1988 litter size was so small we named most of the piglets, carcass weight was 60-65 kg and the pigs were even then too fat for the market. HFC was above 5.0, but feed was cheap. Now litter size is around 14, carcass weight just above 75 kg, the pigs are so very lean and HFC is nearing 3.5, but feed is damned expensive.

Some things never change: the market still demands pigs with very low P2 and plenty of money remains on the table for manipulating feed efficiency and carcass fatness and enhancing the rate of genetic gain in both traits and in things such as resilience and survival. All are priorities for Australasian Pork Research Institute Limited (APRIL) and challenges for our researchers. History suggests they can do it.

The industry always has and continues to be supported by excellent research programs and scientists through APL and more recently Pork CRC. Both organisations have trained the next generation of scientists over the past 10-15 years. APRIL continues to do so.

Having a lower (and ideally low) cost of production will provide tremendous flexibility and opportunity domestically and globally and I think it’s a prerequisite for what lies ahead.

Tender times

However, the quality and provenance of the product will also influence consumer and community choices. We need to build on the wonderful work by Pork CRC and APL on eating quality and supply product that can be guaranteed tender and tasty. We have made tremendous strides in the area, with the greatest improvements associated with processing interventions and innovations, packaging and, of course, how pork is cooked (think 6-2-2).

Never forget that Australian scientists lead the world in pig welfare research. Their input and your’s into transitioning from stalls to group housing of gestating sows has had major positive impacts on the perception of Australian production globally and on price. The latter has faded over time and we need to ask what might be next.

Welfare state

Globally, the issue is reducing antibiotic use and is certainly an opportunity to differentiate Australian pork, albeit we may be starting a little behind other countries and way behind poultry. Welfare will always be top of mind for animal welfare groups and retailers and APRIL research is now heading more towards assessing the animal’s affective state and wellbeing than behaviour per se and there’s already some interesting outcomes. We have results showing that brain and physiological indicators of affective state are altered in situations where the animal’s behaviour was largely unaffected.

Future proofed

It has been a pleasure working with you all and I feel very confident about the future of your industry, which will emerge from the current situation stronger and more resilient than ever. However, it will need to be, as globally things are getting tougher and this is unlikely to change

One way or another I will get the relevant outcomes from the remaining Pork CRC projects to you and knowing what is happening, I expect a few gems to be discovered.

I also look forward to seeing the outcomes from the recently commissioned APRIL projects and I’m confident R&D will continue to remain active in Australia, with APRIL playing a leading role.

Eye on

To end on a similar note, I have listed what I think are the more promising research outcomes and technologies you need to keep an eye on in the next one to two years.

  1. Fatty acids for lactating sows – research suggests the Omega 6 level and Omega 6: Omega 3 ratio in Australian lactation diets may be limiting reproduction. Dr Will van Wettere, University of Adelaide, is principal scientist on an APL project looking at the effect of different levels of each fatty acid in lactation on subsequent reproduction in summer and winter. He is working closely with the nutritionist (Sally Tritton) and research staff at SunPork on what is an exciting project.
  2. Essential oils in sow diets – Pork CRC research by Dr Eugeni Roura, University of Queensland, has shown that including three essential oils in the diet fed sows just before and during lactation markedly and positively affected the performance of their piglets after weaning. The essential oils were added at very low levels and the effects on piglet performance were likely associated with piglet health and/or changes to the gut microbiome. The strategy will be tested under commercial situations, but definitely one to keep an eye on.
  3. Strong evidence that reducing time between last feed and parturition reduces still birth rates in sows (less than six hours is the target). Pork CRC research suggests offering sows straw immediately until after farrowing has a similar effect. Might be a few logistical issues, but stillbirth rates can be quite high in older sows, so it’s worth considering.
  4. Recent evidence from the US that increasing dietary phosphorus level above requirement and raising calcium level enhances growth performance and particularly improves feed efficiency in grower-finisher pigs. Never go below requirement. Discuss with your nutritionist.
  5. Continuing work on particle size by Pork CRC researchers is showing significant effects on feed efficiency – it differs with grains, but target average particle size of 0.6 -0.7 mm. Given our high feed costs, this is something you should keep an eye on.
  6. Continue using AusScan to analyse the value of your feed – there is money in it.
  7. Consider set time and post cervical AI (PCAI) – may reduce summer infertility and enhance genetic gain. PCAI is being adopted by more Australian producers and is something you should discuss with your semen provider or veterinarian. Set time AI is about to be tested on large numbers by APRIL. Watch this space.

I’m happy to answer any questions on these watch list items and can still be contacted on my Pork CRC email address or by phone 040 777 4714. Otherwise, I’m out of here.

I will miss you all and wish you the best of luck for the future, but remind you that by carefully considering and selectively adopting positive R&D outcomes, you can go a long way towards making your own luck.