By Peter Crichton

EU pig prices continue to run 15-20% below UK levels, although political turmoil in Russia is maintaining pressure on UK prices by hindering the chances of re-opening this valuable export market.

This is indicated by current sow prices, which reflect the overall state of the EU pig market at a glance, according to exporters.

Because 95% of all UK sow meat is exported, cull sow returns are directly influenced by EU suppliers, EU pigmeat prices and the strength of all EU currencies relative to the Pound.

Although sow slaughterings have slipped from 10,000 per week last autumn to 6000 now, because of the EU situation, this shortage in numbers has not lead to a price increase.

Pig traders point out that the same rules apply to finished pig prices. They add that a significant lift in sow prices will be the first signs that sustained price recovery is under way.

UK finished pig slaughterings are slipping, as shown by the latest Signet statistics, with April showing 267,000 per week compared with 280,500 in April 1998.

Although the latest UK AESA showed a marginal improvement to stand at 85.07 on 8 May, this only represents a banked figure of 80p/kg and remains 12p/kg (£8-£10/pig) below cost of production.

The poor outlook for finished pig prices in the summer period has also dragged weaner prices from their comparatively high levels of march and April.

Latest 30kg ex-farm quotes have slipped to £27 per pig, a fall of £5 a pig over eight weeks.

With several independent pig finishers looking at negative margins in the next three months further downward pressure on weaner prices is expected.