29 January 1999

Tight supplies may drive up pig market

AS TWOthousand pig farmers and their families took their concerns to the streets of London last weekend, many others were already ruing the collapse of their businesses.

The contraction of the industry is evident from early responses to MAFFs December 1998 survey, which shows an 11% shrinkage in the breeding herd. In the case of in-pig and maiden gilts, the decrease was 20.8% and 14.3%, respectively.

According to the Meat and Livestock Commission, the rapid rate of dispersals could mean sow numbers fall below 700,000 by the summer.

For those still in business, though, the decline in finished pig slaughterings should bring an upturn in prices. The first signs may already be evident, says York auctioneer Nigel Stephenson. "There was a happier atmosphere and slightly brisker bidding on Monday," he says.

"But everyone is hanging on grimly by their teeth and if the trade fails to improve within a couple of months there will be some tragedies. People that have been in pigs all their lives – running tight ships with good management and good pigs – will go down."

MLC economist Tony Fowler also talks of the imminent supply-driven upturn in trade. By the final quarter of the year, slaughterings could be 14% down on 12 months earlier, he reckons. "And a few percent can make a big difference in this business."

Suffolk-based consultant Peter Crichton says, while prices are beginning to reflect the tighter supplies, next Tuesdays (Feb 2) planned strike by meat hygiene inspectors could prompt abattoirs to treat it as "short" week and buy fewer animals

&#8226 The average price on Monday at markets in England and Wales rose 2.6p/kg lw on the previous week to 48.40p/kg. &#42

Pig herd

UK pig numbers % Change

Dec 98 (000 head) on Dec 97

Breeding

sows 714 -11

Fattening

pigs 6833 -3.3

Total pigs 7695 -4.2