Agribusiness and the Driver-less Pig

In Japan, next year the world will witness the first totally automated lettuce farm. Troupes from the Various Vegan Vagaries battalion of the Food Hole Army are currently developing technology to capture a soundscape comprising of the deeply distressing screams of fruit being picked, vegetables being sliced at the stem or dragged from deep dirt, and cereals scythed, sieved and sacrificed. Beware food processing plants, restaurants and family kitchens of secretly secreted surveillance, placed there to record the anguish as you scrape, chop and grate; boil, bake or fry. If the society for the prevention of cruelty to fruit and vegetables gets a royal charter, then prison ships will become a necessary reality.

This is the fat end of the wedge that will just get fatter as Agribusiness develops technology to include the driver-less pig. Except that a driver-less pig only meets half of the contract between Agribusiness and the consumer of its pig meat production, the eponymous ‘consumer’. The two halves of that contract are efficiency and care. The driver-less pig, like the driver-less tractor is predicated solely on agrarian efficiency.

Meeting the 50% increase in the global requirement for food by 2050 will see agricultural robotics sustain humankind. However, the driver-less pig cannot meet the standard of care within the contract between the farmer and humankind.

This is bad news for the pig farmer because it means embracing the technologies that combine efficiency and care. These technologies surely represent the antithesis of real pig farming.

The driver-less pig has, in fact, existed for generations. Apart from the brick walls or electric fences that contain it, the pig is left to navigate its self. Comparatively little is truly understood about the balance of efficiency and care in pig production and much of the current management practice is counter-intuitive. Ironically, it is the neglect of use and the failure of uptake, of modern technologies that continue to render today’s pig in production, driver-less.

Pig producers may be able to tell us how many pigs per sow per year they produce, the more ‘on the ball’ among them may be able to instantly quote their total herd feed conversion ratio. They will point to the use of technology that collects, analyses and reports these facts. To the eating and growing world population, these facts remain abstract. What they increasingly want to know is whether these facts represent efficient capitalization of finite resources. They want to know what controls are in place to sustain a sustainable output.

Technology is available and is continually being advanced, that can answer all these questions and demonstrate the controls. An important question that pig producers should be asking of themselves ahead of the questions the world will be asking is this; ‘what stops us from developing a beneficial relationship with technology?’ As an industry, the suppliers of feed, medication, infrastructure and advice should be finding the answers. A clue to the resistance of pig producers will be found in the counter-intuitive results they regularly report.

Example 1.

The age and weight of the replacement gilt at first service and the related subsequent lifetime performance: The proscribed standard from the supply and advice industry ranges across considerable variation. The pig producer ‘plays around with it’ and often settles on what looks and feels right. Performance recording technology can identify in, specific detail, what is the most efficient balance within the individual enterprise, linking age, weight, litter size and weight and subsequent progeny performance, analyzing and reporting the optimum efficiency in financial and welfare terms. It can further relate to seasonal influence.

Example 2.

The scheduling of the cost efficient, diet change and range in the production of the slaughter pig. Technology is available to gather the data necessary to plot this against the growth, feed intake and feed conversion curves. Analysis carried out at a minimum of twice a year at the turns of spring into summer and autumn into winter will present the business with considerable opportunity for control of cost efficiency and care.

The epoch of the driver-less tractor harvesting crops nurtured by the commands of drones, from soil irrigated by sensors, has arrived. The era of the driver-less pig must be ended if pig meat is to help feed the world. There is also a danger in the hubris of Agribusiness insomuch as, the cost of technology lead agrarian efficiency owes a mounting debt to the rural dispossessed who come from centuries of human endeavor to understand and nurture the natural world to maintain that ordained, rich and humanly fulfilling relationship with the whole of life. Ironically Agribusiness is entombing the growing urban populations in an increasingly rarefied atmosphere. Agribusiness can be good but it cannot be God.


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