FEED Business Worldwide - August 2012
PIC - Breeding growth by embracing technology
by Geraldine EE
Founded in 1962 as a British producer-owned breeding company, PIC has come a long way as it celebrates its golden anniversary this year.
A subsidiary of Genus PLC, the world leader in animal breeding, PIC has been using naturally applied biotechnology and quantitative genetics to continuously bring value to modern pork producers. Today, PIC, as one of the industry leaders in the pig genetics industry, boasts an annual turnover of £145.7 million (US$226.5 million).
Keeping with traditional breeding practices used for centuries, PIC now builds on this solid foundation with new genomic tools and selection practices, which allow genetic improvement to be rapidly employed in farms and help pork producers realise improved performance and profit potential.
"We combine the latest technology with traditional quantitative genetic selection to make sensible and economically important improvement in our products," says Dr Paul Matzat, Director of Nutrition and Marketing, PIC North America. "That is why we say we 'never stop improving', it's our motto".
Success breeds success
PIC entered the US swine genetics market in the 1970s and since then, has been playing a part in shaping the direction and change seen in the marketplace. The focus on sow productivity, carcass value and profitability sets the company apart from others in the industry at that time.
In addition, changes in industry business structure with integrated production and processing systems allowed users of PIC genetics to have an advantage in cost of production, system throughput, as well as improved carcass value for export markets, further processing and meeting consumer demands.
From the beginning, it was apparent to the founders of PIC that they needed to supply customers with superior genetics, high health animals, as well as help with management and animal care recommendations.
"PIC has done a very good job of listening to customers' needs and cooperating with all segments of the pork chain to provide continuous improvement. We are genuinely interested in our customers' success. We want them to have the best genetic product available, along with the latest scientifically-developed management recommendations to optimise profitability," says Dr Matzat.
"We have to know our products better than anyone to help customers extract all the genetic potential within each line or line combination," says Dr Matzat. "And that's why we continue to conduct cooperative research projects with universities, research entities, and key accounts to gain a clear understanding of the optimal feeding and management practices for each genetic product."
Compared to 20 - 30 years ago, genetic progress is evident by looking at production achievement today. Some key contributions by PIC to the rate of the industry's progress include pigs per sow per year and now kilos of carcass weight per sow per year. Improvement in converting feed inputs into lean meat through the reduction of backfat and increment of lean meat per carcass has enhanced producer, packer and processor efficiency while meeting the demands of the increasingly scrutinising consumers around the globe today.
PIC also brought to the global pork industry innovations in health status management, biosecurity and herd health maintenance. Practices were developed to create and maintain high health herds to minimise disease transfer risk during the delivery of genetics. Herd health developments, many of which are commonplace today, are part of PIC's commitment to deliver performance without compromising health.
Embracing technology and a 3600 approach
At the core of PIC's business is genetic improvement. For years, quantitative methods of genetic selection have been utilised by PIC, allowing it to build a huge pedigree database for each line utilised in the global breeding programme. Phenotypic traits continue to be the foundation for genetic improvement and technology advances have allowed for improved accuracy and quantity of traits measured.
One of the programmes initiated by PIC is the 'GN crossbred', which links genetic nucleus (GN) performance with the crossbred's commercial performance. Sires which contribute genes to the next generation at the nucleus farms are also used to produce crossbred pigs at the commercial level. These commercial animals are then measured for on-farm performance traits, carcass composition characteristics as well as pork quality and processing metrics. This investment in capturing data ensures that the performance of the animal selected at the nucleus level is realised at the commercial level and helps improve the accuracy and precision of genetic selection.
The linkage of genetic information across farms, systems and countries is critical for maximising rates of genetic improvement. Hence, genetic and phenotypic information is captured and stored in a PIC-exclusive global database system known as PICtraq. Moreover, the constant replacement of lower indexing sires and dams with genetically superior animals also helps drive rates of improvement and reduce genetic lag.
With more recent genomic technology advancements, genotyping is now part of PIC's normal evaluation process. Selection methods thought unlikely just a few years ago are being discovered and implemented at PIC, based on its continuous quest to 'Never Stop Improving'. This technology allows the company to select economically important traits, while reducing genetically-linked phenotypes that are undesirable.
The marketplace has changed, and PIC is keenly aware that it needs to provide different offering to customers in different markets. "The one thing that is quite consistent, that is quite different for PIC than maybe some others," says Dr Matzat, "is our understanding of the entire production chain – from boar stud, to mating sows, to farrowing house management, to wean to finish management, to the carcass side, to the retail meat side."
Customers have come to realise and expect the results of PIC's commitment to genetic improvement. In fact, the company goes a step further and has also committed to deliver technical information to producers, such as production practices and recommendations that help extract the full genetic potential from PIC animals. Technical support services includes genetics, health, nutrition, reproduction and other forms of technical support in the breeding herd, wean to finish, carcass value and further processing assessment.
This combination of providing superior genetics along with unmatched technical support results in customers with the best cost of production and optimal profit margins. Matching the best genetic line combinations with local economic conditions helps pork producers capture all the value possible.
Growth breeds growth
PIC has expanded to 30 countries over a span of over 40 years. While PIC continues to see growth and return on investment in North America, it has also been putting its resources in Latin America and sees Asia as a growth opportunity.
"We are interested in markets where consumers are interested in purchasing pork and raising it locally, and we are interested in working with them to help, consult them and provide them with information on the right business model."
The developing markets of central Europe and Asia present vast potential to PIC as pork consumption is high and selective breeding techniques are still relatively unsophisticated.
PIC's approach is to create global connectivity within the breeding programme and put infrastructure in place, with nucleus farms in multiple locations to allow it to better understand what lines to best put in those situations. In North America, for instance, its two nucleus farms export a significant number of high-end female and male lines to developing markets.
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