21 February 1997

Dutch swine fever boosts pig prices

By Tim Relf

PIG prices have risen, with news of swine fever outbreaks in Holland and Germany prompting fears of supply shortages.

Markets in England and Wales on Monday saw the all-pig average spot price rise 2.72p on the previous week to nearly 80p/kg lw.

About time, say farmers, considering spot prices had been running at well over 100p/kg a year before. Production increases, heavier carcass weights and the stronger £s adverse effect on UK competitiveness contributed to the lower values.

The recent "climate of uncertainty" over swine fever in the UK has promoted demand and helped values abroad, suggests Meat and Livestock Commission economist Duncan Sinclair.

Brussels, meanwhile, has banned exports of live pigs from parts of Holland and Germany, affecting 70% and 40% of the total in the two countries, respectively.

Crucial now, says Mr Sinclair, will be the number of animals slaughtered. Initial proposals in the Netherlands target 30,000 head.

The UK could benefit from the additional export opportunities. As a fairly uniform product, pigmeat is substitutable. "Of all commodities, pigmeat is the closest to being a single, integrated market," says Mr Sinclair.

MLC pigmeat export manager, Bent Widahl, adds that Danish pig numbers could be hit by problems with blue ear disease.

Bury St Edmunds-based pig consultant Peter Crichton reckons the effect of the outbreak on UK prices will be less immediate. And the recent improvement in the spot market, he attributes to a "seasonal trend".

But by April or May, the resulting "hole" in European supplies could benefit UK prices, says Mr Crichton.

Whatever the reason for the slight upturn, farmers should resist the temptation to bring forward slaughter plans, according to York auctioneer Nigel Stephenson. "That," he says, "could flood the market and prove counter-productive."

&#8226 Cull sow prices remain about 25% down on 12 months ago.

And the MLC predicts sow and boar cullings could be 4% up this year compared with 1996, with weak prices having curbed producers expansion plans.

At Bridgnorth, Shropshire, auctioneer Michael Walters says too many weighing 180-200kg are on offer, when what is wanted are the meated sows in the 280-300kg range.