10 Challenges and Resulting Opportunities for the Swine Industry

As the demand for pork continues to rise worldwide, pork producers at all stages of the industry face a number of challenges that threaten their ability to meet this growing demand while remaining profitable. From diseases concerns to labor shortages, the list of obstacles that pork producers must navigate seems to grow longer every year.

However, none of these challenges present an insurmountable problem. In fact, achievable solutions to these challenges may lead to opportunities for growth and prosperity throughout the entire agriculture industry.

In this article, we will examine the top ten challenges facing pork producers today and explore how these challenges impact the industry’s future. We hope to shed light on the complexities and nuances of the pork industry and highlight the efforts and opportunities we see to address these challenges.

  1. Disease outbreaks: Diseases such as African Swine Fever (ASF) and Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea Virus (PEDV) can quickly spread among pig populations, leading to significant economic losses for producers. Steps like biosecurity measures, surveillance, manure and waste management, strict quarantines and control of animal movement can help reduce the risk of ASF, but until there is an effective vaccine, this will continue to be a huge challenge for the industry.  |
  2. Market fluctuations: The price of pork is subject to market forces such as supply and demand, international trade agreements, and consumer preferences. Fluctuations in prices can make it difficult for producers to plan for the future. The impact of market fluctuations can be mitigated by diversification, improvements in efficiency, getting assistance with market research, adding value added products (like better tasting pork!) to help differentiate from the competition can help. Implementing these strategies, pork producers can better cope with market fluctuations and maintain the financial health of their operations, even during challenging economic times.
  3. Antibiotic resistance: The use of antibiotics in pork production is a concern for public health, as it can contribute to the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Some strategies that producers can take are using antibiotics judiciously, practicing good bio-security, improving overall animal health (easier said than done), finding alternatives to antibiotics, and monitoring antibiotic use and resistance. The pork industry can be a leader and set the example for best practices across all of agriculture!
  4. Environmental concerns: Pork production generates a large amount of waste or more accurately, organic fertilizer, which can pose a risk to water and air quality if not managed properly. However, pork production can be an overall positive for the environment. Environmental regulations may also affect production practices and increase costs for producers. To reduce environmental concerns, producers could implement best management practices such as manure management plans, marketing of organic fertilizer, and improved nutrient management. They can explore alternative manure management options such as anaerobic digestion or composting. Another option could be increasing collaboration with stakeholders such as local communities, regulators, and environmental groups. With the assistance of politicians who understand the industry – Such as Nebraska Governor Jim Pillen –  there may be way to identify and address environmental concerns and find solutions that benefit all parties.
  5. Feed costs: The cost of feed, which can account for up to 70% of production costs, can vary depending on factors such as weather, transportation, and commodity prices. Some strategies that producers could explore are diversifying feed sources, managing feed more efficiently, using feed additives, monitoring markets to buy at the best times, and considering genetic improvements that allow pigs to get to market weight with less feed.
  6. Labor shortage: Finding and retaining skilled labor in the pork industry can be a challenge, particularly in rural areas where farms are located. This challenge could be slightly mitigated by increased use of technology and cross-training existing workers. A note on technology: technological solutions to agriculture problems often have a very high initial cost. However, there are several Ag-Tech companies whose work is already on the forefront of making this easier. As their technology develops and becomes more widely available, this may lead to it becoming more affordable to smaller pork producers.
  7. Animal welfare: Consumers and regulatory agencies, and of course pork producers themselves are increasingly focused on animal welfare, which may require changes to production practices and increased transparency. Animal welfare concerns could be addressed by increased use of technology – again at a significant cost – for animal monitoring, discussions on industry wide standards, better employee training, and collaboration with key stakeholder to better inform the public on our best practices.
  8. Food safety: Ensuring the safety of pork products is a critical concern for producers, as outbreaks of foodborne illness can lead to consumer distrust and financial losses. Years of hard work, research, and efforts from everyone have already made the pork industry one of the safest and best managed, but there is always room for improvement. Increased use of technology, better employee training, increased transparency throughout the industry, and collaboration with key stakeholders could all help improve both safety of pork products and  the public perception of the safety of pork products.
  9. Transportation: Moving pigs from farm to market can be a stressful process for the animals, and regulations governing transportation can add additional costs and logistical challenges for producers. Some ways that challenges in transportation could be mitigated are finding ways to minimize handling and loading times (reducing costs and animal stress) and better training drivers and handlers.
  10. Trade policies: Changes to trade policies, such as tariffs and quotas, can have significant impacts on the pork industry, as pork is a globally traded commodity. In fact, the understanding and sharing of the impacts of trade policies is itself a challenge. The most obvious way to help deal with this challenge is to increase lobbying for fair trade policies. Another method could be increasing collaboration with all chain partners, from producers, to processors, to distributors, to ensure that products are delivered efficiently and cost-effectively, despite tariffs or quotas. Strong management and financial prudence is essential to meet changing consumer preferences, withstand regulatory headwinds, and financial volatility.

Although the challenges presented above may seem daunting, each have ways that they can be mitigated or outright solved. The common set of solutions emerges though when examined together, they are increased use of technology, improved employee training, and collaboration with key stakeholders to find solutions that benefit everyone.  This presents a huge opportunity for an individual or business to thrive. A product or method that can assist the pork industry, would almost certainly be applicable to all segments of agriculture. It is an exciting time to see what our future will hold, a future which looks very bright.

Jeff Day is the Editorial Strategist at Swineweb.com. He can be reached at Jeff@swineweb.com.