The English pig breeding herd has contracted by 18% in the space of a year, as the devastating impact of the pig industry crisis takes its toll, Defra’s June Agricultural survey reveals.
The figures, which are reinforced by the latest UK-wide data released by AgroVision, show the female breeding herd in England was down to below 261,000 in June, compared with 313,000 in June 2021, confirming the loss of more than 50,000 sows and gilts.
This was the lowest breeding herd figure in the past 20 years, with large decreases seen across all categories, with a 28% decline in gilt numbers, and proportionally lower drops in in-pig sows (-14%), and dry sows (-18%). ‘Other breeding pigs’, including boars, also saw a decrease in 2022, falling by 24% from 90,000 to 68,000.
This dramatic annual contraction followed a relatively stable few years that saw the breeding herd fall from 327,000 in 2019 to the 313,000 recorded last year.
The contraction of the breeding herd is not reflected in overall pig numbers in the June survey – the overall English pig herd decreased by 3% over the year to just over 4.1 million animals, with fattening pig numbers, accounting for 92% of the total, down just 1.4% to 3.8, over the 12 months. This figure is still higher than in some recent years.
This likely reflects the fact that much of the breeding herd decline has happened since the spring and was therefore not yet reflected in fattening pig numbers coming through in June.
AgroVision’s latest anonymised pig herd data does give some insight into the shortfall in production that is coming.
Representing about 60% of the national pig herd, the UK-wide AgroVision figures reinforce the trends highlighted in the Defra data for England, showing the number of sows recorded has fallen from 181,000 in July 2021 to just under 150,000 in July 2022, a 17% decline.
Unsurprisingly, the number of herds recorded continues to fall – the July 2022 figure of 191 herds compared with 240 a year earlier.
The number of services recorded in July, just short of 29,000, compared with 37,700 a year earlier, a 23% decline. The more reliable three-month rolling average records a similar decline.
But the most eye-catching figures relate to weaned pig numbers. The July 2021 figure of 432,000 translated into a July 2022 number of just 300,000 weaners, a decline of 30%. The monthly figures are volatile, but the three-month rolling average shows a more accurate 17% year-on-year decline.
This decline in pigs coming through for slaughter is starting to be reflected in official AHDB figures. Weekly estimated slaughterings were up for much of this year on the last two years as processors made their way through the backlog. But the picture has changed since mid-July, and throughout August estimated GB slaughterings were 60,000 down on a year ago.
Industry consultant Dominic Charman, who works with AgroVision, said the July figure was in line with projections and, along with forecasts for August and September, pointed to a ‘serious shortage of pigs’ come the autumn and winter, including the critical festive period.
With recent AHDB figures continuing to show heavy losses for the pig sector in Q2, continuing into the current quarter, NPA chief executive Lizzie Wilson described the latest figures from Defra and AgroVision as ‘deeply worrying, although not surprising’.