22/09/2014 - JSR Farming Conference hailed as the best in 25 years

After 25 successful years, the final annual JSR Farming Conference took place in York on Tuesday 16th September, with JSR Chairman, Tim Rymer, hailing it as the best since the event began.

JSR Farming Conference hailed as the best in 25 years

More than 150 delegates descended on the Ron Cooke Hub at York University, to listen to a line-up of high-calibre speakers as well as network with producers, journalists and suppliers from across the pig industry.

Guest speakers, Meurig Raymond, President of the NFU and celebrity food critic, Jay Rayner addressed the audience alongside Beth Hart of Sainsbury’s. JSR’s Stephen Waite and Caroline Mitchell delivered presentations contributing to this year’s theme of ‘Making Pork Fit for Farm and Fit for Fork’, a concept that was launched by JSR at last year’s conference.

Dr Grant Walling, JSR’s Director of Science and Technology, introduced the JSR speakers and talked about the progress the company is making on its ‘Fit for’ focus. He highlighted the fact that some parts of the supply chain still need convincing that eating quality is just as important as producing high-performing animals.

“People with the same amount of knowledge as our Meat Science Director, Caroline Mitchell, are short in our industry. Although we have many experts when it comes to pigs, we don’t have many experts when it comes to the taste of pork. We are working hard to make sure we are delivering on our Fit for Fork promises, with Caroline achieving success with blueprints that are now being implemented in the industry.

Explaining the importance of delivering a high-performing animal to producers, Dr Walling continued: “This year we have launched the GC900 – a new industry-leading boar that is delivering improved growth rates of over 100g per day, better FCR and an additional £13 per slaughter pig. In addition to this, we are seeing a born alive improvement in our females. However, we are not complacent and are looking at more complex traits and how producers can evolve their facilities (and management) so that their animals thrive.”

The first speaker of the day was JSR’s Stephen Waite, Head of Technology Transfer, who discussed genetic potential – and how much profit producers could be losing if they are not making the most of their animals. He explained that each year, the genetic selection programme at JSR improves the phenotypic and economic performance of the breeding stock, which is passed onto customers in the form of live pigs or semen. However, the environment needs to be optimised to reap the benefits of the genetics.

Stephen told delegates: “Over the past year, we have spent a significant amount of time visiting our customers’ units, both indoor and outdoor and we’ve found improvements that can be made. Whether it’s achieving the right temperature in the units to improve gilt performance, or making simple changes to dishes to improve creep feed intake in piglets, there are many environmental factors that have an impact on performance. At JSR, we don’t just supply genetics – we also supply expertise regarding the best environment for animals, so customers get the very best performance from our products.”

Focusing on eating quality, JSR’s Meat Science Director, Caroline Mitchell, talked about the need to align the supply chain to gain a consistent high eating quality. She explained how the pork production industry is failing the consumer and how selecting for lean efficient growth has led to a highly muscular pig with a generally poor eating quality.

“We know that fat improves flavour, yet we have spent the past 25 years selecting against it. Understandably, the producer and processor are driven to improve and optimise the technological qualities of meat because they directly affect their profit margins. But low-cost changes can be made to improve eating experience. We are also seeing an unfortunate trend with premium pork products where, often, marketing messages focus on perceived ethical quality rather than eating quality. For example, they suggest that outdoor-bred animals are better than indoor, that rare breed is better than commercial breed – neither of which is true. However, if a product doesn’t taste good, the chance of repeat purchase is reduced. If we have no consumer base, we won’t have a need to produce a product.”

With a commitment to supporting British farming, Beth Hart, Head of Technical for fresh foods at Sainsbury’s, provided a retail perspective on the UK pork industry and gave an insight into the company’s 20x20 sustainability plan. Beth, who is responsible for the Sainsbury’s quality, innovation and agricultural agenda, explained how the supermarket now only stocks British pork and the initiatives they are running to help support farmers.

“Product and brand integrity now reaches much further down the supply chain and covers a wide range of social, environmental and commercial aspects of everything we do. These sustainability issues can be global and highly complex but our customers still trust Sainsbury’s, our farmers and our supply chain to do the right thing. In 2011, we published our 20x20 plan and it remains a cornerstone of our business strategy. From our commitment to British products and improving animal welfare, we have made great progress and invested heavily in the future of our supply chains along the way.”

NFU President, Meurig Raymond, discussed the future of the British livestock industry and how the value of the UK’s agricultural output has increased in recent years, as commodity prices have strengthened. He also highlighted how future food demand prospects represent a tremendous opportunity for farmers all over the world.

“We shouldn’t be afraid to champion success and shout about our impressive growth. However, we need to find a way to manage volatility and increase production – with the Government and the industry singing from the same hymn sheet. We need the Government to extend policies, such as the capital infrastructure tax allowance, to help farmers plan for the future. We also need to identify, understand and adopt best practice across the industry.”

Closing the conference, acclaimed writer, broadcaster and food critic, Jay Rayner, entertained delegates with a talk based on his 2013 book, ‘A Greedy Man in a Hungry World’. Combining hard-nosed reporting with witty memoir, he shared his belief that the idea of buying fresh, local, organic produce is simply a clever marketing ploy.

“The doctrine of local food is dead. Farmers’ markets are merely a lifestyle choice for the affluent middle classes. And ‘organic’ has become little more than a marketing label that has passed its sell-by-date. This may be a little hard to swallow for the modern, ethically-aware food shopper, but that doesn’t make it any less true. And it certainly won’t help the need to feed our increasing global population.”

JSR Chairman Tim Rymer was delighted with the success of the event and felt confident it was the best conference in the event’s 25-year history.“As this is the 25th anniversary of the JSR Farming Conference, we decided it was the right time to make it our final event. It was fantastic that we were able to bow out on a high with an excellent line up of exceptional speakers and key opinion formers from throughout the pork supply chain. We look forward to introducing some new events in the near future” concluded Mr Rymer.

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