Iowa Pork Producer Magazine: Swine Industry in Thailand, Japan Provides Student Adventure

By Lauren Rosburg 

The Iowa Pork Producers Association provided monetary support for this study abroad program that took Iowa State University students on a learning experience this summer.

This May, I was part of the Iowa State University College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Study Abroad program that took 17 students to Thailand and Japan to study the pork industry. For two weeks, we explored these countries, networked with companies, and discussed the global swine industry.  

Throughout our time in the two countries, we were continually impressed with the innovation and technologies that were present. As young leaders in the swine industry, we were able to experience innovations and opportunities that could be implemented in the U.S., as well as learn more about the impact of the Iowa and U.S. pork industries on a global level.  

In Thailand, we were immediately met with heat and humidity, as well as the smiling faces of our tour guides from Charoen Pokphand (CP). CP is a company that is dedicated to creating innovation and technology in many different industries around the world. They own 13 businesses, from food to technology, retail and trade.  

Our goal was learning about their swine operation, as well as the work-based college they operate. This agricultural college, Panyapiwat Institute of Management (PIM), focuses on developing leaders in their agri-based production operations. We met with both their international and regional students who had come to learn about the agriculture industry, and the basic skills that come with work experience, such as time management, customer service, and overcoming challenges.  

With the rising cost of energy in Thailand, creating a renewable energy source was a focus for CP. After much research and development, a project was implemented to build a biogas collection system at the CP swine research farm we visited. This system collects the methane from a covered lagoon and pumps it into a CAT generator that produces energy for the farm to use.  

Because of the high energy costs in Thailand, this is an effective system, whereas in the U.S. it may not yet be as practical. Some U.S. dairies have implemented this technology, and Smithfield is working to implement it in the future.  

Holding off ASF

One of the biggest concerns that we share with Thailand’s swine industry is African Swine Fever. This is understandable considering that there are confirmed cases in China, Cambodia, and Laos, all leading up to the border of Northern Thailand.  

There are a few things that could play to Thailand’s favor in avoiding the epidemic. Because labor is not a challenge for Thailand, most workers live on-site, creating a lower biosecurity risk due to the lack of foot traffic at the facilities.  

Additionally, they are entirely gated off with a different entrance and exit for cars traveling in and out with a wash stop upon entrance into the building. 
A new idea they have implemented was using a higher radiation program on the feed coming into their different facilities in the hope that it would kill more pathogens before the product reaches the pigs.  

In Japan, our first stop was Global Pig Farm. This is a cooperative-based organization that produces around 562,000 pigs per year with over 80 different producers.  
Through this co-op-based system, farmers operate individual sow farms with the feed, sows, and veterinary services provided by Global Pig Farm. However, when it comes to the finishing operations, Global Pig Farm must create and run their own because of the lack of producers interested in running a finishing operation due to the added cost involved with production. 

Japanese law mandates that swine operations must have a complete water treatment plan at every site. In this system, they utilize a liquid-solid separation system in an extremely shallow pit. The solid manure is pushed to one side where it is transported to the primary and secondary compost systems and then given to farmers to be used as fertilizer for their fields.  

The liquids are processed through a modern-day water treatment plant on-site before recycling the water back into the river. Though the cost of this system is about $6 per pig sold, the cost is covered by the high consumption and high price of pork in Japan, with a profit margin of $30-40 on each pig.  

Global Pig Farm prides themselves in raising healthy, quality pork, and they focus on production traits as well as meat quality traits to create high-quality products.  
Global Pig Farm is a completely vertically integrated company that has established a retail brand for itself. This creates an opportunity for consumers to connect with the retail pork products that Global Pig Farm is working so hard to produce.  

We also had the opportunity to meet with the Frieden group, another large producer of swine in Japan. They  have a very similar set up  to Global Pig Farm and are also vertically integrated even operating their own restaurant in Tokyo.  

Through genetic development and quality production, Global and Frieden focus on traits like pH, color, and intramuscular fat as essential aspects in their finished products. The Japanese consumers are looking for a darker, redder product with more intramuscular when compared to the U.S. pork consumer. This is important to consider when understanding the type of pork products Japanese consumers want and the type of pork products that the U.S. exports to them. As a critical trade partner, we need to make sure that we are delivering the quality pork products Japan desires.

Trade discussed

The importance of trade was emphasized as we toured the Cold Storage Unit in Tokyo, which processes 4,500 metric tons of U.S. product every month. During the tour, we saw products that could have come from any Iowa pig farm. They had JBS, Smithfield, Tyson, and many brands. It is crazy to look at a box when you are half-way around the world and think: “I could have raised the pig that produced the product in that box.” 

Lauren Rosburg, is from Gilbert, Iowa and is a junior in animal science at Iowa State University.

Original Story: Iowa Pork Producer Magazine, September 2019 Edition