ENERGY production could become the main earner for pig farmers in the future.

Martin Barker, managing director of Midland Pig Producers, said pigmeat production may, in financial terms, simply become a by-product.

Mr Barker was addressing a producer conference organised by pig breeding company ACMC of Beeford, near Driffield.

As the world focuses on renewable energy, he saw 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 £1m-worth of electricity a year.

A 3MW bio-gas plant is being built in Staffordshire which will also process "kitchen" waste, which would otherwise go to landfill.

In addition, the waste-processing will generate income, as disposal fees amount to around £65 per tonne.

When the waste is processed a valuable odourless liquid fertiliser is produced.

MPP is arranging agreements with local farmers who will receive free seed and fertiliser in return for selling grain to MPP at prices reflecting the value of the inputs.

The fertiliser should be enough for 2,000 hectares of arable land producing enough grain for 15,000 tonnes of pig feed.

The bio-digester would produce heat for piggeries and cheap electricity for milling the grain.

Mr Barker said the survival of pig farmers might depend on energy production which could make the sector profitable again.

Hugh Burton, raw material manager for Associated British Nutrition, said high and volatile raw material prices would remain for the foreseeable future - pig farmers would need to adapt to live with them.

It was hard for producers to control the end price of their product and neither they, nor ABN, could significantly influence the cost of feed ingredients.

A method of linking the two may be appropriate - such as the USA's pig market, or through closer relationships with retailers and pig buyers, so the end-product price could be linked to the cost of feed.

Ideally, a way should be found to help processors and retailers add value to British pigmeat products.

There would be greater availability of co-products from the biofuel sector, although feeding practices may have to change to benefit from them.

Increased bio-ethanol production would result in more distillers grains and bio-diesel production from soya and oilseed rape would create more oilseed meals.

Although not cheap, they would be relatively so compared to cereals.

Pay more for pigs to avoid exodus

RETAILERS must pay pig producers more to secure the future of the British pig sector.

Mick Sloyan, chief executive of the British Pig Executive, said if they did an exodus could still be avoided.

He said: "If they don't do this then retailers - and consumers - will face the consequences of high prices through lack of supply.

"We will see the continued contraction of the national herd and the reduction in high welfare pig production."

Mr Sloyan said sow-culling was 40pc up on last year. High feed prices had hit other countries too.

The average herd size of 18 European countries was down 4.5pc - Poland by a massive 13pc.

UK productivity, measured by finished pigs produced per sow a year, had increased from 17.5pc to more than 21pc - but producers were now faced with a 35pc increase in total production costs.

If retailers made a small increase in consumer prices, and passed the increase back to producers it would give them the confidence to stay in business.

"This can be done," said Mr Sloyan.

"Retailers can do this while still holding onto their 40pc margins.

Egg prices have risen by 15pc and people are still buying eggs."