22 May 1998

Low pig prices dash

future plans

By Tim Relf

LOW pig prices have put the brakes on farmers expansion plans quicker than expected.

The breeding herd will contract this year, with sow numbers falling to 765,000 by December, predicts the Meat and Livestock Commission in its latest Pig Market Outlook.

Sow slaughterings will rise 7% in 1998 and, as the breeding herd shrinks, so the last three months of the year will see lower-than-expected clean pig slaughterings.

The changes reflect lower returns, rather than the imminent stall and tether ban, says the MLC, with lower feed costs insufficient to compensate for the cut in prices.

According to Signet figures, gross margins for breeding/feeding units in the six months to June 1998 will be down by £6/pig on the previous six months.

Bury St Edmunds-based consultant Peter Crichton says a lot of farmers are replacing cull sows with their own gilts – so the contraction in numbers may not be as big as some predict.

With culls only making about £80/head, two have to be sold to pay for one replacement gilt. "I can remember when it was a one-for-one swap," says Mr Crichton.

"Keeping your own can offer a relatively cheap, short-term solution. But selection should be done carefully, if the herds genetic merit is not to decline. Dont just say: Theyre gilts, theyll do."

Mr Crichton was cheered by recent figures, showing British pigmeat exports in 1997 up 17% on 1996. "But theres no cause for celebration yet. There werent a lot of cheque books out at the Pig and Poultry Fair last week." &#42

Lets talk pork….mince burgers in preparation on the MLC stand at last weeks Pig and Poultry Fair at Stoneleigh. Pigmeat exports are rising but prices are still under pressure. As one consultant said of the fair: "There werent a lot of cheque books out."