Energy could be the prime earner for pig farmers, and pigmeat production ? in financial terms ? might simply become a by-product.
That was the message from Martin Barker, managing director of Midland Pig Producers, speaking at a producer conference organised by pig breeding company ACMC at Beeford, near Driffield, Yorkshire.
With the world focus on renewable energy, Barker saw the system of biogas production - converting pig manure into methane and then electricity ? as a competitive way forward.
His company is developing a "Green circle pig production concept" in which the manure from 52,000 finishing pigs will be used to generate £1 million worth of electricity annually.
A 3 MW bio-gas plant is being built in Staffordshire and this will also process 'kitchen' waste, which would otherwise go to landfill.
In addition, the waste processing will generate income since landfill disposal fees for this amount to around £65 per tonne.When the waste is processed an odourless liquid is produced, a valuable fertiliser.
Midland Pig Producers (MPP) is currently arranging agreements with local farmers whereby they are supplied with free seed and fertiliser and in return sell grain to MPP at prices reflecting the value of the inputs. The fertiliser should be sufficient for 2,000 ha of arable land producing enough grain for 15,000 tonnes of pig feed.
Pig farmers survival might depend on energy production and such a system could make pig farming profitable again, said Barker.
He pointed out that most of UK land is now a NVZ (Nitrate Vulnerable Zone) and many farms have IPPC regulations to contend with. Converting feed into meat produces a by-product which is about 70% nitrate. Importing feed and nitrogen fertiliser increases this burden. Oilseed rape production, for instance, requires 150% more nitrogen than barley, so utilising home-grown feed for pigs with home-produced fertiliser made environmental sense.
The bio-digester, Barker added, would produce heat for piggeries as well as cheap electricity for milling the grain. In addition to reducing nitrates grain produced within the Green Circle' concept would cut food miles, further reducing the carbon footprint.