It is not always easy to become a pig producer in Korea. 2021 is full of challenges. First, Covid-19 has made it more difficult for pig farms to find workers because most of them are from abroad. In addition, there are more and more regulations related to reducing emissions and improving farm biosafety. In addition, South Korea is very interested in the development of artificial meat, which is also a reason for the worry of pig producers. As if this were not enough, wild boars in the north of the country near the North Korean border were also infected with African Swine Fever (ASF), which has affected some South Korean farms.
Although there are many reasons for worrying, the 35-year-old pig producer Li Zhengda maintained a high mental state despite adversity. He is even expanding his farm near the town of Shinsanri in Gyeonggi Province in northern South Korea. He is investing in a new sow barn-the first pigs are expected to enter in October. This is his third barn, which will raise the farm from farrowing to farrowing from 300 sows to 400 sows. He took over the pig farm from his father, built a 1,500 pig fattening farm in 2014, and then in a new location 4 kilometers away, he built a new two-story sow farm in 2019. The new pig house will be added to the fattening farm site.
Jung-dae Lee’s farm is modern and efficient. He achieved 27.4 weaned piglets/sows/year, which absolutely exceeded the national average of about 21-22 pigs. This is due to the relatively high mortality rate during the production process. He is passionate about applying modern technology and is currently transitioning to using only the genetics of Danish breeders (Yorkshire sows and Landrace boars).
A two-story sow house under construction. -Photo: Robert Horst
Because of his outstanding achievements and open mind, he is regarded as a role model for the pig industry in the country. Traditionally, many Korean producers are reluctant to talk about their business—not Lee Zhengda. As a young entrepreneur, he has always been willing to share best practices and likes to explain the steps he will take. For example, he designed his own larger delivery box to accommodate a larger litter, and shared his thoughts with colleagues. Due to his knowledge and positive attitude, in recent years, the Korean authorities and the consortium of Wageningen University and Research Center in the Netherlands approached him to serve as the ambassador of the Korean pig industry (see also box).
A story he shared was about his collaboration with the Dutch farm automation company Fancom-this collaboration began seven years ago. When he started participating in his father's farm, he was learning at work, Lee said during a virtual farm visit with Pig Progress via a video connection. A typical feature of the Korean climate is the large temperature difference between day and night, which is why proper ventilation is essential.
His veterinarian advised him to talk to the Dutch company to see if their detailed ventilation plan helped. This ultimately led to a design for the automatic ventilation system tailored to the needs of the Jirae farm. In addition, Fancom installed sensor-driven feeding systems for sows and piglets. "Once you get used to the system, these products are very easy to use, and they are also very customer friendly," Lee said. He began to believe in their added value and shared his experience as an ambassador. He also became a distributor of these solutions in the Korean pig industry.
Some of the topics he shared are related to biosafety and the environment, as both are becoming more and more important in Korean industries. He is very familiar with both themes. Lee explained that biosecurity is one of the pillars of his farm and he is applying European-style standards. On his farm, bathing is mandatory, as are the farm-specific clothes and boots.
He faces a daunting task to persuade more producers to think like this. Lee said that South Korea still has a lot of work to do in terms of biosecurity, and it is estimated that only about 20% of farms have applied these standard rules. Driven by the ASF outbreak in wild boars in northern South Korea, biosecurity was suddenly put on the agenda. The new farm must include the tourist’s travel itinerary and be subdivided into "green" and "red" areas.
In South Korea’s pig industry, environmental issues have also become more and more important. This is not surprising, because South Korea is one of the most densely populated countries in the world, with a population of 52 million, an area equivalent to Oregon (United States) or Iceland (Europe). As emission problems have become more and more serious, authorities in several provinces of South Korea have begun to force the use of air purifiers in recent years-more provinces are expected to follow suit.
Again, Lee doesn’t need encouragement. He said: “I never knew these technologies existed in the past. But they do, and they work very well. I plan to make my farm 100% air purification-and make all my water 100%. Purification. This is something I think I must do, whether it is society or the environment."
Childbirth department in the old building.
Disinfection device at the entrance of the farm.
But most importantly, the country’s pig industry is at a crossroads—an important step towards further specialization is needed to meet modern challenges. Jung-dae Lee explained that in the past, pig farmers did not care much about long-term issues. "In the beginning it was easier in the pig industry. You don't have to think about longer-term issues. You just start and make sure that the pig can finish; it will make you rich. It won't be the same way now."
Even Jung-dae Lee admitted that he had to seriously consider whether to invest in the pig industry. He said: "Recently there are many regulations; think about restrictions and environmental legislation. So if people seek advice on opening a new pig farm, I suggest that they consider longer-term issues because it will cost a lot to build new buildings."
It is more important than ever to develop an appropriate strategy to fully prepare for the upcoming challenges. He said that even during Covid-19, it helped him. "During Covid-19, most farmers are competing for good workers. My farm is very efficient, so I don’t need many workers. That’s why I increased my payment."
For many years, Wageningen University and Research Center in the Netherlands has been cooperating with South Korean authorities to help further modernize the country’s pig industry. During those years, Robert Horst, a senior pig production economist at the university, established close ties with and made recommendations to the Korean pig industry. One of them includes increased information sharing. To achieve this goal, various master classes have been set up, in which a group of 15-50 professionals from the pig industry received practical advice on what they can do to further develop their business. In these meetings, Li Zhengda also played a role, sharing his own farm experience.
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