Reduction in variation of growing pigs can have significant impacts on both cost of production and on return from the packer.This double impact on both cost and return makes this an especially lucrative subject for both study and the development of strategy leading to standard operating procedure (SOP) creation or amendments.Simply reducing variation is not the goal however since there is no guarantee that this will produce either cost reduction or income increase.
Variation is a natural part of biological systems and a characteristic that cannot be eliminated.However, the wise producer will institute procedures from the boar stud to the final loading of the finished animals which at a minimum, does not increase the natural variation in growth.Variation costs money, lots of it.Since we adopted systems which produce weekly lots of pigs, the pigs flow through the farm in age-segregated groups, often moving two or three times to different locations.When their growth performance begins to spread, the time and the cost associated with their completion and marketing begins to rise.
So we are talking about not adding to the fundamental problems which biological production systems deal out just because of their nature.Some of those problems include seasonality, the complexity of growth mechanisms as a key variance enhancer (compared to non-biological production—like automobile manufacture etc.) and the fixed periods of production which cannot be speeded up with an extra shift (like gestation).I’m contending that the next major movement forward in competitiveness is the producer’s ability to manage (certainly never eliminate!) variation more effectively.There is lots of money on that table.
Agricultural production is kind of a strange bird compared to other business processes.In economic terms, one of the real challenges is something called “asset turnover”.Asset turnover is the time it takes to generate the value of all assets used in the production process through sales of finished products.Asset turnover is a key determinate of Return on Equity along with net income and level of leverage employed (see the Dupont Equation if you are a budding MBA).
If you think about it, crop producers purchase a $400,000 combine which they operate a few weeks a year and then it is a high-priced bird perch for the next 10 or so months.This is the killer of asset turnover in most biological production processes since many of them are not continuous.
Pass-through is the economic term for how higher (or lower) prices in a chain wind up effecting prices up-chain, say at retail.All outcomes are possible for a price rise such as we have experienced in the corn market due to the government transfer payments for corn producers. Input price increases can lead to complete pass through up chain, more than complete pass through or something less than complete pass through.
Part of the problem in the meat case at retail is there is so much special pricing, loss leader pricing and the like that it is hard to tell exactly what happens for every input price change down the chain.In addition, price changes at retail for products made from agricultural products tend to be very small compared to the change at the production level.This is due in part to all of the value added as the chain progresses (i.e., a few cents worth of wheat in a $4.00 box of wheat breakfast cereal.)Small changes are sometimes unnoticed by consumers as they are lost in the noise of other price changes, the hassles of shopping and plain inattention.
You’ve no doubt heard the ethanol policy slogan, “Food or Fuel” to describe the tradeoff between using traditional feedstuffs for energy production vs. feed for livestock and the hundreds of other food products made from corn.In China, we now have the first major world economy deciding that containing food prices is more important than creating fuel from corn.The restriction recently put in place prohibits additional expansion of ethanol production from corn but allows it from grasses, corn stalks and other agricultural products which would not affect the price of food. Existing plants using corn are currently grandfathered in.
If you want to know the impact of increased corn prices on your cost of production, chose a forecasted corn price (take your pick of forecaster between $3.40 and $3.85 with some as high as $5.00+ if drought develops) and crank through your feed cost calculation.If you do this and it actually turns out to be your new cost of production, you will be one of the last few producers in the pork industry with absolutely no imagination whatsoever.
One thing we know for certain is that people do not face adversity sitting still.All kinds of secondary strategies, impacts, cost cutting, substitutions, new research and experiments, adjustments in weights and plain ingenuity immediately move to the forefront.In addition, poultry producers and other meat animal species that consume corn are making similar adjustments as are tortilla makers, users of high fructose corn sweeteners and even elevator/feed mills that used to get the corn.As they do, the prices of their products change relative to the price of pork and demand shifts begin to take place at the grocery store and throughout the chain.
One of the most revealing quotes I heard recently was “What would we be talking about if we didn’t talk about ethanol?” No doubt it is the elephant in the room for most livestock producers so it is important to spend some time on it but there are so many other interesting and important topics flying under the radar of the ethanol intoxication. We need to and will break out of this fixation and take a wider view soon. Regardless, here are some thoughts about the ethanol situation as it impacts corn prices and cost of production for pigs just to make sure the groundwork is set for future comments.
There’s a lot happening in the pork industry today.Brazil bought into the global beef and pork business in a big way with J & F Participacoes, S.A. purchase of Swift & Co. ending a long speculation (since 2002) about who would eventually own those assets.Those who predicted countries like Brazil, with underdeveloped infrastructure and disease containment mechanisms would have a hard time competing with U.S. produced beef and pork in the export market just got a valuable lesson.If you don’t have everything you need domestically to compete, you can always consider buying the capabilities and attributes abroad.We went down there for cheap inputs. They came up here for access to the Pacific markets among other things.