Peter Crichton’s commentary for December 31, 2015

Well folks, 2015 ended with more of a whimper than a bang, and year-on-year comparisons make very unhappy reading with the SPP standing at 124.23p compared with 143.50p at the start of the year, spot bacon quotes in the 108p to 114p/kg range as against 138p/kg last January, and sows also on the sick list currently trading at around 50p/kg compared with 65p/kg a year ago.

As previously identified, however, at least feed prices are showing significant reductions compared with their value at the start of the year.

Although most (but not all) of the pigs sold on contract have found homes next week, the spot market is a much chillier environment according to weight and spec although, as often remarked, regular spot sellers going to the same outlets on a weekly basis should be able to earn premiums of 4p to 6p/kg above this, in most cases.

Although the euro touched 74p earlier in the week, its Thursday afternoon fix at 73.47p reflected similar trends to last week’s value.

Slight fluctuations in the value of the currency had no effect upon cull sow values which remained at a stubborn stand on in the 50p to 52p/kg range according to spec and load size.

Reports are being received of one or two breeders who have decided to hang on to their culls for another cycle because of the widening gap between cull sow and replacement breeding gilt values, which in many cases mean producers simply can’t afford to go out and buy new replacements for their ageing herds, and sadly the price will be paid later on in terms of reduced productivity.

The weaner market also remains under pressure and until we see some stability return to finished pig prices, or in plain English they have stopped falling, finishers will remain very cautious about how much (or little) they pay for 30kg and 7kg weaners. The latest AHDB prices have yet to be updated, so last week’s values remain at similar levels with the 30kg ex-farm weaner average at £40.00/head and 7kg piglets at £31.07/head but, at the risk of repeating myself (again), there is still a very wide price range between contract and spot weaner values which, in some cases, can amount to a difference anywhere between £4 to £6/head.

Global grain markets have ended another quiet week, and the latest news that Argentina has scrapped quotas on wheat and maize has introduced further bearish elements, although US wheat prices have been underpinned by concerns over disease risk and weather related challenges in the Mid-West.

However, from the pig producers’ perspective, any improvements in cereal and protein prices could be the final nail in the coffin with most breeders and finishers already operating in negative territory.

The latest UK LIFFE feed wheat quote for January remains at £114.00/t with July also unchanged at £120.40/t.

Looking ahead we need to see a return to better demand, reduced production and an end to the Putin import ban, as well as stronger euro to try and kick-start any upward movement in pigmeat prices, which is sorely needed.

AHDB chairman Meryl Ward hit the nail on the head by identifying the further shrinking share of pigmeat retail prices with producers now receiving a painful 34% and the need for every part of the supply chain (not just the final section) to work together to recognise and reward producers, without whom there would be no pigs in the first place!

The other main challenge facing the pig industry, which I have touched on in earlier commentaries, is the need for livestock vehicle washing and disinfecting facilities to be stepped up and taken seriously by all, and not just some, abattoirs, for it may be inevitable that exotic disease will find its way into the UK pigmeat supply chain with disastrous effects, bearing in mind that there will be no more big cheques from Brussels for compulsory slaughter and consequential losses.

And finally, my hopes and prayers are for the industry for the year ahead, and I just hope that at some stage after the darkest night, the brightest dawn will emerge . . . we’ll see.

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About The Author

Based in Suffolk, Peter Crichton provides a wide range of valuation, auction and livestock marketing services, as well as supplying the UK pig industry with a wide range of consultancy services covering tenancy, contract advice, pig equipment and herd valuations as well as dispute resolution. For more information visit: www.petercrichton.co.uk