Nevedi director, Henk Flipsen, said there is, undoubtedly, a serious economic crisis in the Dutch pig sector, exacerbated by the Russian boycott and low international pork prices.
But he stressed Dutch pig producers have to pay higher costs than their EU counterparts in areas such as manure, environmental measures and animal welfare and these outlays are playing havoc with their profitability.
“Some of these welfare policies are politically motivated, aiming to meet unrealistic consumer expectations, and also based on an agenda that aims to put an end to intensive pig farming in the Netherlands,” he told us.
He said Dutch pig farmers, which used to be among the most competitive in the EU, are also confronted with intense pressure to use certified ingredients such as soy.
The Netherlands is home to around 5,000 pig farms with a combined population of more than 12 million pigs, according to Rabobank data. Last September the bank noted some 20% of those producers were in financial trouble, and predicted the number of Dutch pig farms will be halved in 10 years’ time.
More recently, Dutch trade journal, Nieuwe Oogst, reported that five pig-farming companies went out of business in the Netherlands during the first quarter of 2016, as many as in the whole of 2015. And Dutch media outlet, De Gelderlander, said some producers are so stretched financially they are unable to feed their pigs.
Feed advisor can sound the alarm
Flipsen said a lot of pig farmers in the Netherlands simply won’t be able to balance the books without timely, professional intervention, and this, he continued, is where the feed industry can step in.
“On-farm feed advisors can assess things close up and warn officials early on that a certain pig farmer is in financial trouble and in need of some form of assistance, so as to potentially prevent the farm from going under,” said Flipsen.
As it is, commodity prices are, currently, very low and, yet, the crisis would seem to deepen, he said. “What then can we expect in the aftermath of an agreed TTIP deal and potential phosphate limits in the Netherlands in terms of the future competitiveness of the Dutch pig sector, those factors will surely only compound present difficulties,” continued Flipsen.
There is still a huge amount of uncertainty over how new Dutch phosphate rules will play out - the measures will mean restrictions to the amount of phosphate per hectare that can be produced across all agricultural sectors.
And Flipsen said questions remain over whether phosphate rights trading will be allowed between different sectors, and what impact such legislation could eventually have on pig herd sizes.
Lack of leadership
Perhaps greater leadership would help bring about greater efficiency in Dutch pig farming, said the Nevedi director.
Compared to the competitive egg and poultry sector, in which all the chain partners interact and exchange data, he said the pig sector in the Netherlands is fragmented and does not engage with other stakeholders so readily. “There is no coordinating partner,” said Flipsen.
And he mooted the idea that Dutch feed manufacturers might help in unifying the pig sector. “The feed industry has always had more of a background position. But perhaps the bigger compound feed producers could get more involved.”