UK pork exports rise on the back of higher productivity

High levels of domestic production in February contributed to a 10% rise in UK pork exports compared to year earlier levels.

According to HMRC, fresh/frozen pork exports reached 17,500 tonnes during the month. However, lower average unit prices led to a more modest 6% value increase, reaching £22.5 million.

The growth in volume terms was driven by an increase in shipments to other EU member states, which were up by 13% (+1,200 tonnes). Sales to Denmark, the Netherlands and Poland increased in particular, with much of this product likely to be re-exported. The narrowing gap between UK and EU pig prices during the month may have aided pork trade within Europe, according to AHDB Pork analyst Bethan Wilkins.

However, the international market was more mixed. Exports to China declined 8% (-260 tonnes) and Hong Kong shipments were down 15% (-124 tonnes).

Other global markets increased; volume shipments to the US grew by nearly a third on the year (+105 tonnes) and trade with the Philippines (+244 tonnes) and South Korea (+115 tonnes) more than doubled. In contrast to last year, around 25% of pork exports to the US consisted fresh/chilled rather than frozen product during February. This boosted the value of pork exports to the US by almost 50% (+£965,000), which helped support the value of UK pork exports overall.

In contrast to fresh/frozen pork, offal exports recorded strong growth on the year during February to both China (+9%, +221 tonnes) and Hong Kong (+29%, +442 tonnes). Offal exports performed well in general; trade within the EU also grew by almost a third (+379 tonnes) meaning overall volumes were up 19%. In value terms, lower prices meant pig offal exports were worth 7% more than a year earlier at £6.7 million.

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HMRC import data suggests the UK imported 13% less pork than last year during February. Lower shipments were recorded from most key suppliers, including Denmark, Germany and Spain. As average prices have been lower, the value of UK pork imports was 17% lower than 2017 during the month, at £56.7 million.

Bacon imports continued to decline, reflecting a move towards processing more bacon in the UK. However, the reported 44% decline in shipments from Denmark so far this year may be somewhat overstated.

First quarter production

According to Defra, total production for quarter one stands at 233,900 tonnes, 5% above year earlier levels. Strong production during January and February offset a 4% year-on-year decline in production in March, partly the result of there being fewer working days due to Easter.

Slaughterings and pig meat production have been well above forecasted levels so far this year. This likely indicates that the herd has been performing better than anticipated, and the breeding herd has grown by more than the Defra census results suggested, AHDB analyst Rebecca Oborne said.

March clean pig slaughterings declined by 3% (30,200 head) on the year, to 874,300 head. Although on a per working day basis, throughputs would be 6% higher than 2017 levels, but 6% below the previous month.

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Carcase weights for clean pigs showed little change compared with year earlier levels, increasing by just 100g to average 83.4kg. The recent poor weather conditions may have somewhat limited carcase weight gain.

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About The Author

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.