By FWi reporters
A PIG industry full of expectation at the start of the year saw its hopes dashed as the months rolled by.
Better omens and prospects for a year of sustained price improvement were scuppered by movement restrictions and the loss of the export trade through foot-and-mouth.
Pig numbers have continued to decline as the industry restructures, and there are now 20% fewer holdings with pigs than during 2000.
Slaughterings have fallen to a weekly total of about 215,000, well below the 300,000 that processors were killing a few years ago.
One commentator reckons this could fall further next year, to 160,000-170,000 by early summer.
Pressure on productivity is the last thing many producers want, having weathered heavy losses over the past three years.
But pig health is not in good shape after three years of low investment.
Pig wasting diseases are affecting a large number of herds, and F&M rules have prevented many from rebuilding numbers, so production will remain depressed.
Other knock-on effects of the F&M outbreak were equally unwelcome.
The adjusted Euro spec average GB price kicked off 2001 at 103p/kg, well above the 75p/kg being offered the previous year.
But the F&M export ban pulled the market back to about 95p/kg, about break-even price.
The ban ground to a halt a lucrative trade to the Continent in forequarters and bellies. This left processors with the difficult job of flogging a product UK consumers do not like.
Prices remained at that level for much of this year.
But mid-December values have crept over the 1/kg mark, to 105p/kg, and spot prices are higher than they were a year before.
Most improvement comes from exports restarting and good demand for UK pigmeat from domestic retailers.
Most pundits agree that next years pig market will reflect Continental returns.
Should a 10p/kg gap open up between UK pig prices and those on the Continent, then imports will follow, the industry cautions.
With a declining domestic market share, the future looks brighter, but only marginally.
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