US pig herd expands despite Covid-19 challenges

The US pig herd has continued to expand, despite the significant challenges the COVID-19 pandemic has posed to the industry AHDB analyst Felicty Rusk reported.

As at 1 June, pig numbers totalled 79.63 million, 5% more than at the same point in the previous year.

The rise comes from a significant increase in the number of slaughter pigs, which recorded a 6% increase on the year. The majority of this uplift came from pigs weighing between 54-81kg and 82kg and over, which recorded an uplift of 12% and 13% respectively. The uplift in these weight bands translates into an additional 3.36 million pigs compared to the same point in the previous year.

Processing capacity was severally disrupted in the spring due to the pandemic. Before the latest pig inventory was released, Rabobank estimated that the plant closures would have generated a backlog of about 3 million market-ready pigs.

However, Ms Rusk said that these figures suggest the actual backlog is smaller than this, because some extra pigs would be available this year anyway due to expansion.

She commented: “Unfortunately, euthanasia of market-ready pigs was the only option for some processors. Analysis from David Miller, Chief Economist at Decision Innovation Solutions, suggests over 2 million market-ready pigs were either euthanized or disappeared through direct sales, which would leave a backlog of about 1.2 million market-ready pigs. Although, as the survey was conducted at the start of June, it cannot take account of actions taken later that month.”

She explained that the uplift in the heavier weight groups suggests that there will a large supply of pigs to come onto the market for the rest of the year, and that this will likely continue to put pressure on processing capacity as they work through the backlog.

There are also growing concerns over weaker demand later in the year. Subdued demand in combination with the expected large supplies would put downwards pressure on US pig prices.

In contrast, Ms Rusk reported that the breeding herd recorded a reduction in numbers. As at 1 June, the US breeding herd totalled 6.33 million head, 1% less than both the same point in the previous year and the previous quarter.

She said: “The US pig herd has been in an expansion phase for several years. However, the difficult market outlook now seems to have driven some herd liquidation.

Farrowing intentions for the coming months are also 5% below year earlier levels. Between March and May, around half of the breeding pigs in the US farrowed.

Sow productivity remained relatively flat on the year, only recording a marginal 0.01 improvement in pigs weaned per litter, to average 11.01.

The pig crop between March and May totalled 34.93 million, 1% more than in the previous year.

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