7 November 1997

Good and bad news for pigs

"MORE difficult than for a couple of years – but not disastrous for most."

Thats what pig farmers can expect from 1998, according to the Meat and Livestock Commission.

Increased production at home and abroad, together with competitive lamb prices, will keep a lid on values.

And slaughterings next year are likely to reach 15.25m head, after topping the 15m-mark this year.

EU-wide, marketings are likely to reach a record high in the coming 12 months. And this despite the recent classical swine fever problems in Holland, which had seen 7.5m animals killed by early October.

Prices are now expected to stay stable, giving an adjusted UK spec average of 112p/kg for 1997, predicts the MLC in its quarterly Market Outlook publication.

And theres likely to be little movement next spring, although values may fall seasonally from June to around the 100p/kg dw level.

For farmers, this means there may be a small increase in margins during the second half of 1997 compared with late 1996, with lower feed costs more than compensating for the low prices.

But between January and June next year, the drop in prices compared with 12 months earlier is likely to be more than the drop in feed costs, squeezing margins.

Pork, meanwhile, has bucked the trend of the strong £, reducing exports. Volumes sold to other EU states between July and September totalled 33,800t, up 4000t compared with the corresponding period in 1996.

Bury St Edmunds pig consultant Peter Crichton says producers should now concentrate on improving efficiency in areas such as herd health and nutrition.

They should reconsider when they sell pigs, opting to sell at lighter weights if a gap of more than about 10p/kg dw opens up between porkers and baconers.

Mr Crichton also advises farmers, in the face of an increasingly volatile spot price, to consider selling on contract.

"A water-tight contract will be worth a lot of money in the year to come.

"As regards feed costs, we have probably seen the low point. So producers cant rely on these coming to their rescue."