I hope everyone has had a much-needed rest and a chance to relax over the festive season after a very challenging 2020, hopefully in preparation for a more prosperous, easier and healthier 2021.
In the December issue of APN, I wrote about the situation of the mink industry in Denmark, which was devastating for producers around the country. The issue continued to impact on most of Danish agriculture over the past month and unfortunately, the situation has worsened. Protests were held by farmers and fishers in both Copenhagen and Aarhus on the November 21, with hundreds of tractors in each city and the harbours filled with fishing vessels.
More recently, a parliamentary document was leaked, which clearly indicated that there were no grounds for the government order of the destruction of mink in accordance with the Danish constitution. I do not know what the outcome of this evidence will be but, as the majority of mink have been destroyed, it feels too little too late. Though perhaps it could be used in the argument for producer compensation, the details of which have not been released in any form.
The mink industry issue, low pig prices and a total lockdown of Denmark due to a scarily high COVID-19 infection rate have combined to provide a challenging start to 2021 on this side of the globe. I am hearing the phrase ‘stay positive and test negative’ fairly often, which in a roundabout fashion brings me to the point of my article this month – the importance of communication.
Capacity building and retention is a phrase we’ve heard a lot recently and while it’s a challenging subject, during my time on farm over the past couple of months I have been reminded of the importance of effective communication and training, and the retention of knowledgeable and capable staff. In these challenging times, it is hard for anyone to stay motivated at work, in particular those who couldn’t return home safely to loved ones over the Christmas break and cannot see an end to the restrictions.
When analysing a production unit, we look at optimising nutrition, genetics, production routines and procedures, facilities and animals, and what all of these things have in common is the impact of effective staff and labour, which we generally think to augment in the same way. We can provide all the technical services and advice required, though if this advice isn’t communicated effectively to properly trained staff, no difference will show in production results.
A case example from a farm I have been working with highlights my point. The farm had begun back fat scanning their gilts and sows at mating and during gestation to get a more accurate idea of body condition and subsequently ensure they were on the right feeding curve. Becoming common-place in Denmark, the farm was not seeing any benefit of carrying out this routine and still had an issue with sows being too lean.
After a discussion with the mating shed manager, it turned out that in practice the farm was using the results of back fat scanning as a guide and their personal assessment of body condition score to assign the animal to a feeding curve. Unfortunately, the practice caused issues between the owner and the manager, however the source of the issue was the lack of understanding as to why back fat scan results should be used rather than personal body condition assessment. The reason why – being accuracy – was communicated frequently in both written and spoken media throughout Denmark over the past year and yet why is the message not getting to the farm staff?
This issue is not going away and will only continue the more we rely on staff that do not speak the native language of the country they are working in. While there is an argument for staff compliance versus staff understanding, in general I believe employees want to improve and make a positive difference to the business. If 2020 has taught me anything, it is that communication is key and we need to continue to seek effective communication strategies that can be implemented from a distance to all levels of farm staff.