PIG FARMERS are losing up to £5.79 a pig, according to a study by Exeter University.

Two reports by the Centre for Rural Research show that pig numbers continue to fall despite the highest pig prices and cheapest feed for at least five years.

The average break-even value for cutters and baconers in 2003 was 96p/kg, compared with an average price received of 98p/kg.

“But with the high overheads of the typical farm, pig producers could expect to see the 2p/kg profit turned into a loss of 3-8p/kg deadweight, which amounts to a loss of £2.17 to £5.79 a pig,” said report author Andrew Sheppard.

“It is very difficult to cut overheads further – the price has really got to improve. Farmers have been postponing repairs and running things down, which has given us an unrealistically low cost of production. Producing in that way has no long-term future.”

Although the June 2004 census recorded 114,000 more pigs than in 2003, more recent slaughter figures suggested that this was just a blip in the downward trend, said Mr Sheppard.

These show that 2.4m clean pigs were slaughtered in the three months to the end of November – 4000 fewer than in the same period in 2003.

Pig numbers in the south west had declined to such an extent some processors were desperate for more suppliers, said Nick Green of the National Pig Association.

But there was a bright future for farmers who could supply exactly what customers wanted, he added.