China builds world's largest pig farm
The new farm, which began construction in March and started operations at the first of its 21 buildings in September, epitomises the breakneck pace at which huge, industrialised hog breeding facilities are replacing small, traditional farms, many of which were wiped out by the worst animal disease outbreak in recent history.The shift, under way for years, has accelerated sharply, fuelled by huge profits at corporate producers since African swine fever ravaged the country’s herd and sent pig prices soaring to double the previous record. Corporate farms weren’t spared by the epidemic, but as prices jumped, they quickly recouped their losses. Muyuan’s profits grew 1,413% in the first nine months of 2020 to 21 billion yuan ($3.21 billion).
"We have hit a very favourable period for development. Pig prices are very high, our profits are really good, and cash flow is really ample," Qin Jun, Muyuan’s vice general manager, told Reuters at the company’s headquarters in Nanyang city in central China.
The mega farm can house five times as many pigs as a regular farm on the same area. Its density carries huge risk, however, with diseases including the swine fever virus still circulating in China, and no vaccine or cure available. In the race to take share, companies like Muyuan are designing higher-density automated farms, betting they can keep disease out while increasing efficiency to satisfy the country’s huge appetite for pork.
Muyuan’s new mega farm near Nanyang, which will eventually house 84,000 sows and their offspring, is by far the largest in the world, roughly 10 times the size of a typical breeding facility in the United States. It aims to produce around 2.1 million pigs a year.
Muyuan says it has overhauled its production process since the swine fever outbreak. Grain for feed is sterilised before being piped into the on-site feed mill from outside, avoiding possible contamination of the farm by trucks. Inside the pig housing, air is filtered, and thermal imaging cameras are being trialled to check pigs’ body temperatures.
China’s hog herd, the world’s largest, shrank by around half in 2019, causing an 11-million tonne pork shortfall that far exceeded global supplies. Imports of all proteins have since surged, sending prices from Brazil to Denmark to record highs.
If it works as planned - and other producers follow suit - the world’s top pork consumer could reduce purchases from the global market, upending a booming meat trade that has supported farmers across the world.