pigs© Tim Scrivener

British pig meat production could reach its highest level for almost 20 years, according to the latest AHDB pork market outlook.

Forecast figures for 2018 suggest production will rise by 3% to hit 924,900 tonnes – the largest total since 1999.

The predicted increase follows a slight expansion (1%) in the UK breeding herd this year, driven up by improved producer profitability and continuing improvements to sow productivity, says the outlook report.

See also: Sheep sector must look to develop exports – AHDB

Higher carcass weights of 84-85kg in 2017, along with forecasts of further increases next year, are also behind the suggested production rise.

AHDB analyst Bethan Wilkins says the rising carcass weights are down to genetic improvements combined with some slower throughput at processing plants, which has resulted in pigs spending longer on farm.

  Clean pigs 2016 2017 2018 Sows & boars 2016 2017 2018
Q1 2,623 2,556 2,590 67 59 62
Q2 2,603 2,509 2,567 67 58 62
Q3 2,620 2,606 2,665 59 62 61
Q4 2,686 2,717 2,758 64 61 62
Year 10,535 10,388 10,579 257 240 247

China’s demand

Volumes shipped have continued to grow in 2017 despite being constrained by tight supplies earlier in the year, Ms Wilkins says.

This suggests demand for UK product is favourable, based on a strong reputation for producing quality meat compared to competitor countries, according to the report.

“However, whether this actually leads to a continuing increase in exports remains to be seen as the Chinese market is becoming more challenging.

“Pig production in China is undergoing consolidation as the traditional backyard units continue to shut down and much larger modern facilities take their place,” says Ms Wilkins.

“While the older units were closing we saw our exports rise to take up the shortfall in China’s production.

“Now the more modern units are coming on stream we are seeing production levels in China recovering and it may mean the potential for exports contracts,” she explains.

This in turn may mean that the increase in home-produced pork could result in some downward pressure on prices, especially as imports into the UK are expected to increase modestly, the AHDB report suggests.

The twin drivers for these imports is a growth in shipments of processed products and a rise in the EU breeding herd pushing up pork production forecasts on the continent.

A further factor, making it difficult to predict the long-term outlook, is the fluctuating domestic consumer demand for pork products.

Data from retail analyst Kantar for the 12 weeks ending 8 October shows some recovery in pork consumption volumes compared to year earlier levels.

While tentative, perhaps this could be the beginning of an improvement in pork consumption domestically. If this continues, it may help the market absorb some of the extra supplies available next year, the report says.

Pig outlook summary

  • Production increasing again fuelled by rising carcass weights
  • Increasing supply boosts export prospects but global market conditions are becoming more challenging
  • Increasing EU supplies and falling prices could provide further pressure from imports
  • With increasing supplies, market conditions will likely be less favourable next year
  • The extra supply should improve UK export potential to China.