By Peter Crichton

DEMAND for pigs in the UK has at last started to show signs of a slight recovery.

This is due to a further fall in the numbers of slaughter pigs available on the home market and to a slight upturn in demand in some of the EU pig production countries.

The Dutch AEX futures market is showing slightly firmer March and April quotes equivalent to Euro 90 compared with February prices in the low 80s.

However, the EU market still remains fragile while the build up of millennium holiday pigs is being absorbed.

The Dutch, Spanish and Belgium markets remain under the greatest price pressure and supplies in these countries are still well ahead of demand.

UK spot buyers are starting to focus on the dwindling number of non contract pigs available to them in the weeks ahead and more are expected to switch to contracted supplies to cover their forward requirements.

This weeks UK AESA was almost unchanged at 75.84p/kg, just 0.15p down on the week.

Marketeers expect next weeks quote to show a slight lift and hope that this might signal the start of a sustained recovery.

The slide in the size of the UK pig herd is underlined by the latest slaughter numbers for December. These show a weekly total of 258,000 compared with 306,500 in December 1998.

A 16% drop in numbers represents 48,500 pigs equivalent to over half the weekly Malton throughput or the weekly capacity of 10 smaller abattoirs.

But with 3,300 tonnes of UK pigmeat missing from the system more imports are expected to penetrate the home market.

With the Euro at its current rock bottom price these imports will continue to undercut UK producer prices.

Many meat processors will be tempted to turn to imported supplies and there are reports of not only EU supplies but also grey market pigmeat coming in from former Eastern European countries such as the Czech Republic.

With hard pressed British Pig industry Support Group members limbering up for more militant protests their members feel that any meat plants handling low or non existent welfare imported products may find they are the targets for blockades and other activities.

  • Peter Crichton is a Suffolk-based pig farmer offering independent valuation and consultancy services to the UK pig industry