FURTHER RATIONALISATION in the pig industry is inevitable unless the incessant decline in the UK breeding herd can be halted, according to analysts.
The GB Euro Deadweight Average Pig Price (DAPP) is almost unchanged over the past year, at a viable 108.01p/kg, and feed wheat prices have dropped by 3.5% over the same period, to £69.20/t ex farm.
But while this paints a brighter picture for the future profitability of the industry there are no signs of an end to the decline in the UK herd size or abattoir closures.
According to Meat and Livestock Commission figures there were 203 licensed UK pig abattoirs at the start of this year and an annual clean pig and sow kill of 9.35 million head, equivalent to 44,500 per plant.
But 10 years earlier a total of 457 pig abattoirs were handling an overall kill of 14.6 million clean pigs and sows, with an annual average throughput of 29,000 head.
These figures indicate that most of the plant closures have hit smaller abattoirs and the five largest pig abattoirs now have a 44% share of total throughput.
Industry analysts are concerned that unless the steady decline in the size of the UK breeding herd since the mid 1990s is arrested, further meat plant closures and rationalisation are inescapable.
But the June 2004 census is expected to show a further decline in pig numbers, while the ongoing effects of PDNS/PMWS continue to hit throughputs.
A recent campaign by the National Pig Association for better labelling practises by retailers may help to improve demand and prices for the UK product.
But pig traders believe that unless the industry can face a significant period of profitability it may still be hard to persuade producers to increase herd sizes in the future.