Peter Crichton’s commentary for February 5, 2016

Apart from a slight reduction in the rate of a slipping SPP and cull sows being worth a touch more, it was another difficult and depressing day for pig sellers up and down the land.

The SPP only dropped by 0.45p, but now stands at 114.72p compared with 139.06p a year ago – a drop of £20 per finished pig.

Fresh meat wholesalers have confirmed that the main problem facing the industry at present is not only lack of demand, but also increasingly competitive pigmeat imports from the EU mainland, where good quality carcases can be purchased ex-head and feet for circa 120p, which translates back to a UK producer price of little more than 95p/kg.

In some cases, one-off loads of spot bacon pigs are trading in the 90p/kg region, but the majority of regular spot quotes were between 102p to 105p.

Looking ahead, with Easter much earlier than usual this year, there are hopes that some early demand may be seen in the pigmeat market in mid-March, which will certainly help to lift the industry out of its current trough.

However, the ongoing mild weather is encouraging pig growth rates, and a return to a cold snap might work wonders as far as human appetites are concerned and slow down pig growth rates too.

Cull sow prices enjoyed a modest 1p increase in the main, more due to an improvement in the value of the euro than any real recovery in EU pigmeat values. The European currency was trading on Friday worth 77.04p compared with 75.96p a week ago, which effectively puts 1.5% on the value of pigmeat exports and increases the value of imports by a similar amount. What we really need is for the euro to go up by at least 10%, which seems an unlikely dream, to put right some of the wrongs as far as pig values are concerned.

As a result, most cull sows were traded in the 53p to 56p bracket, but with several herds on the brink of culling out, extra numbers could be coming forward in the weeks ahead, not to mention those producers who have already had enough and decided to look for other ways to lose money.

Although the latest AHDB weaner averages have improved shade, with the 30kg ex-farm AHDB average standing at £36.45 and 7kg at £30.23, there’s still a significant disconnect between spot and contract weaner values, with the former trading between £4 to £7/head less than their contract counterparts.

Any improvement in finished pig prices would be welcome and help to restore finishers’ confidence to start filling up empty pens in the hope they might earn rather than lose some sort of margin.

Grain prices continue to move in pig producers’ favour, with the latest LIFFE feed wheat values of £106.75/t for March and £111/t for July, but November showing a slightly firmer trend at £120/t.

Protein values have also continued to reflect bearish trends with rapemeal ex-Kent back by £4/t to £144/t and Brazilian soya ex-Liverpool down £3/t for March delivery.

And finally, there’s still too much pig weight in the UK slaughter pig system, with the latest AHDB / SPP input average carcass weight of 84.54kg breaking new records and also risking further damage to abattoir kit, with nervous and mechanical breakdowns, as monster pigs crash though the system.

While it’s easy to ask producers to get the weight down – this appears to be the only practical answer – this is almost impossible to achieve at a time when abattoirs are restricting contract numbers and are only, at best, a few reluctant spot buyers. Perhaps a “slow track” ration like we had in the middle of classical swine fever standstill periods may be the answer?

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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: