Expanding US pig herd reaches new seasonal high

The US pig herd has reached its highest level for the time of year since records began in 1983, standing at 73.5 million head at the start of September, according to latest data from the USDA.

The figures have prompted a warning from AHDB Pork that extra US supplies in the global marketplace could threaten EU competitiveness in certain markets.

The September inventory results show a 2% rise on the same point last year and a 3% increase on June 1. The number of market pigs appeared to be the main driver, increasing by 3% over the year to 67.5 million head, the highest on record. The number of market pigs greater than 54kg increased by 4% on the previous year to 26.3 million head, suggesting that more pigs may be coming to market over the next few weeks.

The number of market pigs under 54kg as at 1 September increased by 2% on the previous year to 41.2 million head, indicating that US pig slaughterings over the next few months are likely to remain stronger than year earlier levels.


The US breeding herd increased by 1% on the year, to stand at 6.1 million head September on 1. A rise in the number of sows farrowing and an increase pigs per litter over the same time combined to increase the pig crop from June-August by 2% year-on-year to 33 million head.

The US pig industry is very much the one to watch on the global stage. Reports suggest that the recent increase in US processing capacity, forecast to add 10% more processing capacity by the end of 2018, will help to absorb the extra supply. However it will take strong demand to prevent prices slipping, according to AHDB Pork.

Slaughterings in the US are expected to remain elevated over the coming months, while winter farrowing intentions are reported an extra 1% higher than the actual 2017 figures.

AHDB Pork said: “With this in mind, exports of US pig meat will also have to remain healthy for at least the midterm. If US prices do become under pressure, then US pork could seriously threaten the competitiveness of EU pig meat on the global market.”

EU production stable

In the year to the end of July, EU pig meat production was just 1% lower than year earlier levels at 13.4 million tonnes. In July, EU production remained relatively unchanged on the year at 1.8 million tonnes, according to provisional data from the EU Commission.

But the majority of the key producing member states recorded year on year increases in production in July. The EU’s largest pig meat producer, Germany, recorded a 2% uptick in production to 441,000 tonne, although  production to the end of the year in Germany remained 2% below year earlier levels.

Spain, the EU’s second largest producer, reported a 5% annual rise in output in July at 307,000 head, taking year to date production to 2% above year earlier levels. But Danish output during July was 13% lower than year earlier levels at 119,000 head, with year to date output 1% lower than the same period in 2016.

Irish herd declining

Results from Ireland’s June 2017 Pig Survey indicate that the total Irish pig herd fell by over 2% on the year, to 1.56 million head. Within this, numbers of finishing pigs were back 2%, while the breeding herd fell by almost 4% on 2016 levels.

The decline in breeding pigs was primarily driven by a 7% fall (-5,000 head) in the number of sows in pig. As such, some decline in supplies would be expected towards end of 2017 and into 2018. On top of this, with the number of maiden gilts also back 8% on the year, its seems further decreases could be expected in the longer term, according to AHDB Pork.



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Editor of LBM titles Pig World and Farm Business and group editor of Agronomist and Arable Farmer. National Pig Association's webmaster. Previously political editor at Farmers Guardian for many years and also worked Farmers Weekly. Occasional farming media pundit. Brought up on a Leicestershire farm, now work from a shed in the garden in Oxfordshire. Big fan of Leicester City and Leicester Tigers. Occasional cricketer.