By Peter Crichton
Evidence of the continuing sharp decline in the UK herd has been seen in the recent decision by Unigate, owners of the largest pig slaughtering operation in the country, to close their Spalding based abattoir this Autumn.
This decision comes hard on the heels of a slump in their share price which has fallen from 730p in 1998 to just 425p now.
At the announcement of their 31 March 1999 figures the company blamed the economic turmoil in Russia and the surplus of pigs in the whole of the EU for 5 million plus losses in their pig sector.
At the same time many producers are reported to have lost confidence in the Malton Bacon factory operation and are talking to other slaughterers where they believe they have a more secure future.
Trade sources believe that the defection of many Spalding pig suppliers before the end of their three-month notice period could lead to the premature closure of the Spalding slaughter facility in weeks rather than months.
However shutting the Spalding plant, which is reported to have cost in excess of 15 million less than 3 years ago, is a clear indication that one of the major players in the industry accepts that the UK herd will continue to shrink.
Although the dioxin scandal has not led to a surge in UK pig prices forward quotes remain firm at a time of year when producer returns normally slide.
This weeks UK AESA stood virtually unchanged at 84.46p and most spot quotes for bacon pigs have been in the 83 to 86p per kg range.
Evidence of a slightly better EU pig price levels has been indicated by a continuing rise in UK cull sow prices which are now hitting the 54 to 56p per kg deadweight range in spite of a strong pound and exporters are reporting more interest in UK sow meat.
EU veterinary reports indicate further suspected swine fever outbreaks on the Dutch/German borders.
Although these have yet to be confirmed they may also point to ongoing EU disease problems which could help UK pig producers in the long term.