By Simon Wragg

THE sharp rise in weaner prices reflects short supply rather than confidence in the prospect of better-finished payments.

But even at current levels, efficient producers should make a profit.

Although rising slowly in January, weaner values gained pace in February to stand at 24 a head in the east and between 26.50-27.50 across the west and north.

Meat & Livestock Commission figures suggest prices have crept to a top of 28.50 last week (with an overall average of 25.92).

Entries through markets mirror the fall in numbers available from weaner suppliers.

These are down considerably with the loss of specialist store pig producers early in the industrys current crisis culminating in a further 7% contraction in the UK breeding herd last year.

Were certainly seeing fewer entries, comments Peter Woodall of Malton-based Cundalls.

But the weaner price is being dragged by the rise in finished pig prices. Some see it as the end of the crisis, but it could be another false dawn.

Typical of venues, 12-week-old weaners weighing 30-32kg were trading at about 27 each, up almost 15 a head from the end of last year.

At these levels, reasonably efficient finishers should still make a margin, albeit 2-5 a head, suggest consultants.

According to Warkwickshire-based pig adviser Bernard Peet, it would take at least 12 weeks to get a 32kg weaner to a bacon weight of 95kg liveweight with a daily weight gain of 800g.

Better units will do it with feed costs of 18-20 and overheads of 5 a pig. Given a 74% killing-out percentage, they need to achieve 85p/kg to make a margin of 5 a head.

While he is optimistic that pig prices could strengthen in future, he adds that the finishers potential margin could be eroded significantly if performance notably feed converted to weight gained is poor.

However, although the recent shift in weaner values is seen as a strengthening of the market, average spot values in some areas are still lower than a year ago, suggests the MLC.

While January averages were up on a year earlier, Februarys were lower particularly in the north and west where they were down by 3-4 a head. In the east these were up by 3 each.