6 September 1996

Exports raise cull sow values

STRONG export demand is pushing cull sow values upwards.

Prices, at over 91p/kg lw in the week ending Aug 21, were 20p/kg above those of 12 months earlier.

The main export destination, Germany, remains an under-supplied market, according to the MLC. At the same time, demand there is growing, pushing sow values up nearly 40% on a year ago. (Clean pig prices are up 25%.)

Demand in the UK, meanwhile, has been boosted by interest from manufacturers looking for an alternative to cow beef. But they are finding supplies are tight. Slaughterings in the first half of the year, at 191,000 head, were down about 12% on 1995.

"People who have gone out of the business in the past couple of years have not come back in," says auctioneer Mike Carter at Banbury, Oxon. "And there has not been the expansion among other herds to compensate."

Accounting for about one-fifth of Banburys entry are sows destined for further fattening. Typically entered at between 160 and 250kg, buyers may bring them back ready for slaughter within six weeks – sometimes over 300kg, says Mr Carter.

Trade for sows is so buoyant that they have been making more in some cases on a pence-a-kg basis than bacon-weight pigs, he says. "I can remember this happening only once before, over eight years ago."

At Driffield market, auctioneer Nigel Clark says although sows have not been worth as much as baconers, trade has still been excellent. Average price last Thursday, for example, was 91.5p/kg, with a top of 100p/kg.

With sow entries up, farmers may be taking advantage of the firm prices by selling a few extra, he says. "But they will not adjust herd management based solely on cull values. Current prices are, therefore, viewed as an added bonus."