By Peter Crichton

EVIDENCE of the scale of producer losses over the last two years is at last filtering through to the finished pig market.

At the same time, the effects of the killer viruses PDNS & PMWS is also hitting numbers in a big way.

The latest abattoir returns show that during April this year an average of 231,250 pigs were slaughtered.

A year earlier this figure was 267,250 head and this flags up a drop in throughput of 13.5% or 36,000 pigs per week which is equivalent to over 50% of the Malton kill.

There are reports of real concern in the slaughtering sector and many are looking to secure long term producer contracts to try and maintain their future supply base.

According to latest estimates, over 80% of all UK pigs are now sold on contract or on a quasi-contractual basis.

This trend will leave spot buyers more exposed to rising shortages in the market place and could lead to the closure of more smaller and medium sized abattoirs.

These outlets form a vital link in the whole system especially as far as competitive pricing is concerned and their closure will ultimately lead to less overall competition.

PDNS and PMWS is according to veterinary sources rife in many parts of East Anglia and several large scale producers have been faced with mortality in the 10% to 20% bracket.

If the spread of the virus continues to other parts of the UK this could pull a further 25,000 to 30,000 pigs out of the system.

However, because of undersupply in the UK a rising tide of imports is expected to fill the gap.

The industry view is that although there is a shortage of pigs there is no shortage of pigmeat.

This is confirmed by Dutch imports to the UK, which now comprise almost 18% of their total output and rose last week to 2237t, equivalent to 32,000 UK pigs at 70kg deadweight – close to the drop in live pig numbers in the UK.

One way in which UK abattoirs are trying to fill the gap is to look at contracts with higher upper weight limits.

Currently most UK contracts have a cut-off point in the 75-80kg range and above this level there will be weight and grade penalties to be faced.

The pattern in the other “big five” EU producer countries is for a higher carcass weight to be the norm.

The average Dutch weight is 89kg, Germany 92.7kg, France 87.1kg, Spain 80.1kg and Denmark 77.8.

UK producers are now being offered contracts with higher upper weight limits and those meat plants still trying to hold out at 75kg may find they lose more pigs in the months ahead.

From the producers point of view a heavier pig will provide a better net return with feed costs now as less than 30p/kg liveweight gained and providing they have the space this presents the chance to regain some of the losses suffered in the past.

With feed prices lower and compound finishing rations in the 105-110/t range, an extra 10kg liveweight added could be worth up to an extra 4.50 per pig in net terms.

At the same time, an increase of, say, 7.5kg in deadweight levels amounts to an extra 1650t of pigmeat through the system.

Weaner prices are holding firm in spite of the threat of PDNS and the Farmers Weekly average for this week is 31.78, with 7kg pigs quoted between 19-24, according to quality and region.

Cull sow returns have dipped a touch due to a 4p/kg cut in the levels of export refunds but are still in the 65p-70p bracket in most regions, which values the average sow at around 90/head.

  • Weaner prices are holding firm in spite of the threat of PDNS and the Farmers Weekly average for this week is 31.78, with 7kg pigs quoted between 19-24, according to quality and region.

    Cull sow returns have dipped a touch due to a 4p/kg cut in the levels of export refunds but are still in the 65p-70p bracket in most regions, which values the average sow at around 90/head.

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