From news on high piglet mortality to a high number of bankruptcies... Last year news about the pig farming sector in the media was very critical and mostly negative. A pity, because our project with Vereijken Hooijer showed that innovative pig farmers deserve a lot more respect.
A successful pig business starts with healthy pigs
Vereijken Hooijer believes that healthy, happy piglets are the best indicator for a successful pig farming business. With an eye for well-being for sow, piglet and farmer, Vereijken Hooijer has developed the Pro Dromi nursing system. Instead of selling these nursing systems, we aimed to develop a circular service in which Vereijken Hooijer reuses parts. Easier said than done. Eventually, it evolved into a business model that addresses the entire system from farmer to retailer to the end consumer. Collaboration between stakeholders is essential, because what happens at the end of the chain affects the beginning.
Discussions with real entrepreneurs
During the project we visited a Pro Dromi farm to get a better understanding of what being a pig farmer means. Forget the image you might have of a strawhat and pitchfork, these people are real entrepreneurs dealing with big cash flows everyday. We organized a focus-group with 10 farmers and proposed them concepts to shoot at. Discussing aspects they liked and disliked helped us to identify the true challenges, which are much bigger than what happens on the farm.
System thinking and solving it together
Pig farmers stand at the beginning of the supply chain of meat, but are often saddled with the challenges of the entire system. Legislation to protect the environment is a great step forward, but making the pig sector more sustainable on feeding, antibiotics, energy and wellbeing comes with high investments.This results in a higher cost price for taking care of pigs.
Thinking in a circular way can be an advantage here. By offering modular stables and reusing materials, farmers remain more flexible for upcoming changes in legislation in a more cost-effective way. Healthier pigs, means we need no antibiotics. Flexibility is essential for business survival.
By talking to farmers, we realized that making these investments can be difficult. Foreign competitors that do not have to meet sustainability regulations offer pig meat against a lower price. Dutch farmers stand before a difficult challenge. Being forced by competitors to reduce their selling price, while dealing with increasing investments for sustainable legislation, resulted in many pig farms going bankrupt. If we want more circularity in this industry, the system needs to change as well.
What can we do as consumers?
That’s why it all comes back to the end of the supply chain. If we as consumers choose for more expensive sustainable meat or supermarkets decide to only offer certified meat, farmers will be more confident to invest in well-being of animals and sustainability. This begins with you as a consumer to make the responsible choice in the supermarket each day.
Wanted: More appreciation for food
Many of the farmers we have spoken with are in this business for a passion for growing food and raising animals. The meat we have on our plates often has no identity. If we would realize how much time and effort it costs to get it there, we would be more grateful for it. By paying attention to what we buy, we can reward farmers who dare to invest in a positive impact.
We thank all the farmers who were willing to open up to us. And hope that you will continue the dialogue with consumers so they understand your side of the story.
Creating a positive impact starts with all of us.