The third stage of our Global Focus Programme (GFP) brought me back to Europe and to Germany. It was a great cultural experience travelling through Asia, however it’s only for so long you can eat with chopsticks and I was looking forward to the western food again; the week in Germany saw many a pork schnitzel and pork knuckle and a few Steins to wash it down!!
The previous 3 weeks in Asia showed many agricultural activities being unproductive and lacking technology, I was looking forward to see what Germany had to offer and what we could use in the UK going forward.
We flew into Frankfurt, drove north west to Ankum and finally we drove east to Berlin. On our travels we observed many different businesses and enterprises, below is a brief overview and my thoughts on what we saw.
Germany is well known for its pork production, during our time there we visited many pig units, including farrowing, rearing and finishing units (including an organic finishing unit).
Pork production has become very efficient, state of the art building and measuring equipment is used to make sure the pigs are as productive as they could be. Everything is measured and monitored on farm. Margins are tight so any shortfalls must be dealt with and, with increasing pressure to reduce antibiotic use, knowing your figures is crucial. On the farrowing sites, the sows and farmers have become very efficient, producing 2.44 litters/sow bred and 32 weaned piglets per sow. With mortality rates very good from birth to weaning, the focus was to target more piglets born alive per sow.
On the finishing units we visited, pigs entered the site at 28kg and left at 120kg – spending between 80-120 days to achieve growth averaging 900g/day. This was a Feed Conversion Ratio (FCR) of 2.7:1, which is phenomenal compared to ruminant equivalent of around 8:1 kg DM to kg of beef (e.g.). Whilst, in their favour, ruminants eat poorer quality feed and are able to digest more forage, we seriously need to look at closing this gap.
We also visited an organic finishing unit where the owner marketed his pork through his own farm shop. Finishing 250,000 head per year, 10% goes on to be sold through the farm shop which experienced circa 10,000 visitors per year.
We saw many crops grown in Germany from Cereals, Potatoes, Sugar Beet, Strawberries and Asparagus. Most arable farms had a pig unit and would grow their own cereals to home mix to feed the pigs, others would grow crops such as triticale and sugar beet to put through bio gas plants.
Farmers had innovate ways to engage with the public – with a favourite being to leave a plot of the field without using herbicides to show the effect of not spraying weeds and the effect on yield.
Being totally focused on ruminants on the farm at home and in my professional career with Wynnstay, I have had little to do with monogastrics. However, after seeing the pigs and broiler units in Germany, the efficiency and breeding of these animals really opened my eyes as to why we, as ruminant producers, produce a very inefficient product in terms of resources required for production. Going forward, this will have to be a key focus. The monogastric industry is subsidy free and even though margins are tight, they have become very efficient. With a growing demand from the world population for cheap protein, poultry looks to be ahead of the game. Have subsidies held us back from achieving this in the ruminant sectors in the EU?
We visited a broiler unit with 440,000 birds on an all-in, all-out system. These birds were on a 7 week cycle and achieved 3kg at day 42; their feed efficiency was 1.6:1! Bird Flu remains the biggest threat to these farms, but I can see why the number of broiler sheds within the UK has risen over the past 2 years, as there are huge benefits to be made!
The broiler unit we saw was part of a vertical integrated programme between farmers and Rothkotter. Rothkotter are a meat processing company turning over €1 billion/year, they control the parent stock to the hatcheries, producing feed out of 2 feed mills to feed broilers on farms whilst running a state of the art chicken slaughterhouse and processing plant.
We were shown around 1 of the 2 feed mills; they produce 1 million tonnes of monogastric feed/year (500,000t from each site), and this site was solely for broiler feed which had to produce only 4 different pellets which made the mill very efficient. 80% of the raw materials were also shipped in on barges into the dock directly next to the mill which reduced transport costs.
The most impressive part of the day was the visit to the chicken slaughter house where 27,000 birds were slaughtered an hour; most of the cutting process was all automated and precise.
Every farm we visited had a form of renewable energy, ranging from solar, to wind, to bio fuel. As has been the case in the UK, farmers in Germany have been heavily subsidised to produce green energy. The bio fuel was reducing the issues of slurry and manure however, with high tariffs paid off by the government, is this sustainable going forward?
Arriving in Germany I was very excited to get on some dairies, yet I was slightly disappointed from the two farms we visited. Both had undergone huge reinvestment on their dairies and installed Lely Robotic milking machines
in a brand new shed building a debt up of €6,000/cow space. With a high cost of production between 27-30c/litre I didn’t see the desire in these farmers to reduce costs and felt they were producing milk to merely break even. The main aim seemed to be to produce the slurry for the bio digester. Maybe I saw the wrong herd but the farms having also been through the milk crises their mentality to reducing cost had not changed.
A special thank you must be given to Stefan and Elisabeth Teepker for organising the week of visits, and allowing us to visit their pork, poultry and arable units as well as hosting us at their home for two nights. It was a great BBQ!!
Next we passed through the UK for the triannual conference before finishing off in the States. I will update you on my findings and thoughts!