Last week’s British Pig & Poultry Fair saw a small rise in attendance, with more visitors on day one, reports organiser Grandstand Stoneleigh Events, working on behalf of the Royal Agricultural Society of England and in partnership with feed manufacturer ABN.

The exhibition attracted 10,131 visitors to Stoneleigh Park across its two days, marginally up on the 2016 event which had 10,097 delegates. But the latest run saw a slightly higher first day attendance – 58% day 1 and 42% day two – compared to the 56% and 44% split in 2016.

The popular Forums heard outgoing AHDB Pork director Mick Sloyan report that pig producers and processors had remained in the black throughout 2017 and into 2018. He added that pig producers had made significant progress in reducing antibiotic use, with recorded usage of 131mg/kg in 2017 28% lower than in 2016 and 53% down on 2015. “We are targeting 99mg/kg by 2020 and I’m confident that we can achieve that while maintaining pig health and welfare,” he said.

Addressing Brexit, senior policy adviser at the National Pig Association Ed Barker said pigmeat export trade remained buoyant due to the weak Sterling, and would be critical to the industry after Brexit as some 70% of UK pork exports go to the EU. “Trade deals will be extremely influential,” he noted. “I believe an EU trade deal will come ahead of all others, but the Irish border will define Brexit.” But he warned that the Government’s outline Health and Harmony policy could leave the industry trying to do too much at one time, with too little resource. “The Government wish list is too much to be able to have it all – there will be a trade-off and we need to have a strong industry voice,” he stated.

Andrew Saunders, who heads major pig processor Tulip Foods, advised the industry to keep focusing on high welfare standards, “but not the extent that the industry shoots itself in the foot and opens the door to cheaper imports. We need to build transparency in the supply chain and sell our positive story”.

The Poultry forums heard the British Egg Industry Council’s Mark Williams advise that the UK egg industry is expanding.  “The UK is 86% self-sufficient at the moment, so there is an opportunity to replace imports – but to expand further we need to knock imports on the head. If we don’t, we go into oversupply,” he said

British eggs have a very positive image, added Richard Pearson of Chippindale Foods. He warned that unpopular large-scale developments could harm this, but also pointed to opportunities through changing consumer trends offering the potential to develop new brands and ways of marketing.

On the poultry meat side, Patrick Hook from PD Hook believed that price pressure throughout the supply chain will continue to dominate. The use of new technology to improve efficiency is key to meeting this challenge, while alternative forms of production could help some producers – “I do think we need to have another offering – perhaps slow-grown chicken is next?”

Tesco agriculture manager John Kirkpatrick said the retailer is committed to the British poultry sector, while emphasising the need for robust science and factual evidence to portray positive messages to British consumers. “The standards the poultry industry works to are world leading, but ultimately, we need to focus on the customer.”

 “The industry has done a fantastic job on antibiotic reduction and others look to the UK for guidance,” he continued. But producers could do more to reduce levels of pododermatitis and hock burn.

Both pig and poultry sectors believe staff availability will be a greater challenge post-Brexit, as EU labour accounts for a significant proportion of the farming and processing needs. The British Poultry Council, NFU and Poultec launched a new apprenticeship standard at the Fair that places greater emphasis on all-round development to shape successful workers for the future.

The new product award sponsored by Pig World magazine was won by the Fancom eYeGrow 3D scanner that automatically ‘weighs’ finishing pigs using a sensor suspended above the pigs that makes up to 20,000 readings daily to generate weight data within 3% of actual body weights. It can also measure feed conversion ratios and spot any animals failing to grow, while avoiding the time consuming and stressful task of weighing individual pigs.

The system was created by Shropshire-based pig producer Harry Heath and his software designer brother-in-law Ben Wimmo over four years. It will be marketed by Armagh-based distributor JF McKenna.

The Scottish Rural University College (SRUC) showed a system using 3D cameras to help producers spot the early warning signs of tail biting, to allow preventative action to be taken. The research showed that pigs held their tails down against their body when tail biting is about to begin.  The College is now seeking to develop the promising technology into a robust early warning system that is effective at farm level.

ABN used the Fair to launch its broiler farm and supply chain management package designed to help optimise bird welfare and improve financial returns. The Total Farm Performance package comprises three service areas, which can be used alone or together: inFarm, inFocus and inDepth. The first takes a practical whole farm approach to optimising bird performance; the second brings together all the data for daily decision making; while inDepth allows retrospective data analysis.

The SRUC, in conjunction with ADAS, unveiled research findings revealing that farm management influences the welfare of free-range laying hens more than the housing system used. The first independent study of its kind in the UK, comparing flat deck and multi-tier housing, concluded there is no evidence that one system is better than another.

 The study observed 42 flocks over 12 months, in conjunction with the British Free Range Egg Producers’ Association. The researchers found that while production was higher in multi-tier sheds, there were more keel bone fractures, while the flat deck sheds had fewer fractures but higher mortality levels.

Event organiser Alice Bell said feedback from both visitors and exhibitors at the Fair had been tremendous. “It’s been a fantastic couple of days, with everyone enjoying this unique opportunity to network and find out about new products and ideas,” she said. “We look forward to welcoming them back again in May 2020.”

Danny Johnson, head of commercial at ABN, added: “Sharing insight and best practice is key to the future of the pig and poultry sectors, so it’s great to see so many attendees making the most of the forum sessions, arming themselves with some great knowledge on how to best use innovation and technology.”