January 23, 2023

NetEase Weiyang sparks trend of AI pig farming - but falls short of becoming top producer

An eFeedlink Exclusive



NetEase Weiyang, a major Chinese internet portal company, ventured into pig farming following a February 2009 announcement by its founder Ding Lei.

The company shunned the traditional pig farming model, aiming to build an intelligent, highly efficient farm instead. It injected modern technologies into all segments of its pig farm. As such, it can be considered as a pioneer of artificial intelligence-driven pig farming in China.

Yet, it took seven years from the time of the announcement for NetEase to release its first batch of pigs to the market.

In 2017, NetEase built a second farm in Gaoan, Jiangxi. The agricultural industrial park used organic fertilisers for cultivating fruits and vegetables. These were then fed to the company's herd of black pigs via liquid feeding equipment. The farm integrates planting and intelligent breeding, producing 150,000 black pigs annually. It is the largest black pig farm in China.

In 2020, NetEase Weiyang announced that it had obtained a new round of financing, but the amount was not disclosed.

However, the small scale (yet, the involvement of high investment) of Weiyang's pig farms means that NetEase cannot be a top Chinese pig producer. While its success or failure cannot accurately represent the state of China's pig industry, its work with AI has become a bellwether for the technology's revolution in Chinese pig farming.

Following the African swine fever outbreak in 2018, Chinese internet-focused companies, like JD.com and Alibaba, started pig farming businesses. Even then, the production capacity and actual release volume of AI-driven pig farming are only a small fraction of the national production volume of nearly 700 million pigs.

To put things in context, NetEase signed contracts in 2019 with Shaoxing Shengzhou, Ningbo Fenghua and Taizhou Sanmen to build several AI pig farms — a step that would boost the slaughter volume of NetEase farms to 700,000 after completion. But, compared with China's two largest pig producers, Muyuan and Wen's, this is only a fraction of their production volume of 61.201 million and 17.909 million pigs, respectively.

Interestingly, in June this year, during an event that marked its 30th anniversary, Muyuan showcased its own AI pig farm, which — among its various features — utilises robotic applications that can transmit real-time data on pig pen conditions.

- David Lin, eFeedlink