A director in the industry-leading family operation, Horan Pig Enterprises in Glin, County Limerick, John Horan has worked in the pig sector all his life, developing a keen passion and enthusiasm for the business as well as becoming an authority on pig production. Five years on from our previous meeting, we touched base with John – a member of the IFA’s South Region pig committee – again to get an update on the operation, which runs both commercial and purebred herds.
At last, pig farmers in Ireland are getting their just rewards. The pig sector has been squeezed hard in recent times and many farmers have either been forced out of business or left with no option but to drastically restructure their enterprises. Something, somewhere had to give and, alas, while no help was forthcoming for pig farmers domestically, it has taken events on another continent to save their bacon.
The unprecedented outbreak of Africa swine flu in China has altered the global pig market radically, resulting in a huge drop in supply. With demand starting to outstrip supply internationally, the knock-on effect is that pig prices have finally risen and producers in Ireland have started to get a fairer return for their high-quality produce.
Ultimately, it probably doesn’t matter how it happened as justice has been served and pig farmers have been granted some long-overdue respite. “The last quarter of 2017, all of 2018 and the start of this year were just disastrous,” says highly-respected Limerick pig farmer John Horan, who has been running Horan Pig Enterprise alongside his brothers Thomas and Paul since 2006.
“Thankfully, things have picked up and obviously we welcome the increase in the price of pigs. We’re price makers not price takers and it’s ironic that it has taken the collapse of the Chinese pig industry for us to start getting the prices we deserve.”
A real positive from the perspective of pig producers here is that prices should remain at the new rate for at least a year – maybe longer – as there’s no sign of the China crisis abating. “They reckon it could take anything from four to ten years for China to recover, if it ever does,” John notes.
What farmers in Ireland will now be hoping is that other unforeseeable factors don’t intervene and that they continue to receive fairer reward for their hard work and high-quality produce.
And, let’s be clear, the quality of Irish pork is of a standard that is unsurpassed anywhere else on the planet. “It would be produced to a very high standard,” agrees John, who co-manages the premier pig production operation on the banks of the Shannon.
“We’re close to 1,000 sows now, down by maybe 50 or 60, so we’re producing bit more with less sows,” he continues. “Improved genetics have enabled us to produce an extra pig per sow and that has obviously made the business more efficient. We achieved that improved breeding performance by working with Ned Nolan and PIC.”
Producing over 28,000 pigs per year, Horan Pig Enterprises is one of the leading producers of pigs in the Munster region and beyond. It’s also the only commercial pig farm in west Limerick.
The genesis of Horan Pig Enterprises can be traced back to 1972, when local pig farmer Tom Horan set up as a sole trader in Ballyculhane, Glin, County Limerick. Tom oversaw a successful operation for three-and-a-half decades before his three sons took over the business and established Horan Pig Enterprises Ltd.
The business has since been completely reinvented and transformed, with construction of a new state-of-the-art piggery – one of the most modern in the country – helping take it to the next level, and Horan Pig Enterprises is now widely recognised as one of the leading producers of pigs not just in County Limerick but anywhere on this island.
Gainful employment is generated for a team of eight and the Horans have invested in their own trucks and trailers for deliveries – yet another efficiency that they’ve tapped into in the ongoing quest to make the business as sustainable and profitable as possible.
“We transport six loads of feed per week and three loads of pigs,” says John. “Two loads every week go to Stauntons Foods in Timoleague in West Cork and one goes to Italy. We have a purebred herd as well as the commercial one and we export pigs to Italy and Spain. Exports were quiet there for a while but they have picked up again this year.”
Of course, pig farming has never been plain sailing but the 200 or so pig farmers in Ireland are a rare, resilient and invaluable – albeit often overlooked – breed possessed with an innate ability to overcome every challenge thrown at them.
“The biggest challenge of the last three years is that Sterling has collapsed and that closed a major market in the UK,” John points out. “I was getting €1.32 for a pound the night before Brexit and it’s down to €1.09. Sterling is on its knees and that market has disappeared.”
Making his voice heard as a member of the pig committee for the past 18+ months, John is striving to do what he can to represent the needs of his fellow pig farmers. “There are a few issues that need to be addressed. Kill-out is a big issue. The return on a carcass of 76-77% in Ireland is significantly lower than the 79-80% paid in Germany.
“We’re not getting paid the same as our European counterparts but our meat is of a very high quality. If we’re losing 3-4% on our kill-outs, then we’re not being fairly treated compared to Europe. At the moment, not including the kill-out, we’re 20 cent per kilo worse off on price than the rest of Europe. Why not give us the same as them? After all, we probably have the highest retail prices in Europe.”
John is delighted to see Tipperary pig farmer Tim Cullinan launching a campaign to become the next IFA president: “I think it’s really good. If you compare pig farming to beef, dairy and tillage, pigs would be the most efficient and professionally-run. They are businessmen first and foremost and have to be. I think he’d be an excellent leader.”
Looking to the future of Horan Pig Enterprises, the personable Limerick man will work towards further streamlining the operation: “We’ll be looking to unlock more efficiencies, that’s for sure,” he concludes. “I’d like to set up a separate purebred farm and run this one on a purely commercial basis. Ideally, I’d like to have one commercial farm, which we’d keep at 1,000 sows, and then a separate purebred operation, with 300-400 sows. That’ll be our next venture.”
Horan Pig Enterprises Ltd.,
Tel: 068 36185
Taken from Irish Tractor & Agri magazine Vol 7 No 7, December 2019/January 2020