‘Simple pig farmer’ scoops David Black Award

The David Black Award has gone to Charles Allen of Oxfordshire-based DC & RJ Allen & Partners, who, in response, described himself as “just a simple pig farmer”. 

Neil Parish, chair of the Environment Food and Rural Affairs Committee, presented the pig industry’s ultimate accolade to Allen at a breakfast at the Houses of Parliament this morning (1 November). 

“I’ve been in the industry all my life, growing up looking after pigs and I’ve been at it ever since,” said Allen. “I’m just a simple pig farmer, it’s as simple as that, so to receive the award was a surprise and I never thought for a minute I would get it.”

Allen used the opportunity to call on farmers to ensure they made the most of every opportunity post-Brexit. “The industry has totally changed. The biggest change was brought about by the sow stall ban, where we lost virtually half of our industry. We need to make sure we don’t lose the other half as we go through Brexit and look to open new markets.

“While the industry is becoming more specialised, we should ensure we put ourselves in the strongest position possible to compete in the global market. Going forwards, the important point is that whatever we do, we need to do it well.”

Allen urged the government to help protect the pork industry. “Brexit could leave us open to production systems that are morally and ethically unacceptable for us to use, we must rely on our government to protect us from that. Although their track record on this has not been good.”

He also used the platform as an opportunity to address concerns over labour post-Brexit. According to a recent National Pig Association (NPA) survey, almost half (46%) said it would be ‘very difficult’ or ‘impossible’ to source all their labour from the UK in future while just over a half of respondents employed at least one non-UK worker, with 24% hiring more than a quarter of their labour from overseas.

Allen said that 40% of his workforce were from outside the UK. “The businesses I’ve been involved with have only been successful because of the skills and efforts of people who work in them. We rely on European labour, so it is imperative that any new legislation allows free movement of workers.”

Allen started farming in 1971 with his father, uncle, brother and cousin, with responsibility for 300 sows, and has never looked back. Today, the business has more than 5,000 sows at units in Oxfordshire and Dorset, which Allen still runs with his brother but now also his son and two nephews.

He was a founder member of the National Pig Association (NPA) Producer Group and is chairman of Thames Valley Cambac, which has grown to be the largest pig marketing co-operative in the UK.

“We’re a large family business,” added Allen. “My father and uncle started off with 250 acres and today we farm in the region of 7,000 acres. The business has been successful over the years, through hard work and a bit of luck. The key to that success is, however, teamwork and the strength of our team here has stood us in good stead over the years.

“Generally, we’ve always been very proactive farmers, working with processors, understanding customers and supplying what they want. I’ve always realised you can’t stand still though.

“We’ve upgraded buildings and utilised the latest technology to ensure we’re in a position where we’re operating as up to date as we can be. There have also been tremendous advances in pig genetics and pig health.”

Mick Sloyan, director of levy body AHDB Pork, praised Allen for his “unflagging enthusiasm and energy for the industry”.

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