Analysis: 3 impending threats to pig prices

The UK pig price has been virtually static this year, rising by just 1.5p/kg since the start of 2020.

The price, at 164p/kg, is 27p above the five-year average, buoyed by a world shortage of pigmeat after the catastrophic losses in China due to the African Swine Fever outbreak.

See also: Advice for selecting and managing gilts up to service

But can it remain stable in a world dogged by uncertainty? AHDB senior analyst Bethan Wilkins sets out three future challenges

1. Concerns over slaughter capacity

Self-isolation requirements under the coronavirus lockdown mean there are concerns that a lack of available staff at abattoirs could limit slaughter capacity.

UK pigmeat production in the first quarter of 2020 was 6% higher than last year as producers were encouraged to send pigs for slaughter earlier in March, in case capacity was limited by coronavirus.

Finished pig supplies have, therefore, tightened in recent weeks, also influenced by typical seasonal patterns and stagnating herd performance in late 2019.

With the pandemic ongoing, risks of disruption to slaughter remain. However, breeding herd expansion last year means slaughter levels should remain higher in 2020 overall.

2. Export competition and logistics

UK pigmeat exports (including offal) were stable in volume across January and February. However, higher prices meant the value of these shipments was up by 20% on last year.

This largely reflects strong Chinese demand. Nonetheless, the lack of export volume growth highlights challenges.

Large pork imports for Chinese New Year, coupled with the coronavirus lockdown, led to significant backlogs at Chinese ports and limited demand.

Although trade has started to move again more recently, container availability remains a logistical challenge, placing constraints on the volumes that can be sent.

On top of this, US pig prices collapsed following the closure of foodservice businesses and difficulties with slaughter capacity. Low-priced US pork has presented significant competition on the Chinese export market.

We would still expect to see our pork exports rise this year, but it is possible that the volumes and prices achievable are not quite as high as previously anticipated.

3. Changing domestic demand

Domestically, demand for pigmeat has also changed following the closure of most foodservice outlets under coronavirus measures.

Normally, about 14% of the pork consumed in Britain is out of the home.

Initial estimates suggest that pork has switched reasonably well into the increased retail demand, but it remains to be seen whether retail sales will entirely compensate for lost foodservice demand.

Nonetheless, in some areas the changing face of British demand, coupled with some export challenges, seem to have led to building stock levels, particularly of belly and shoulder cuts.

If supply chains struggle to move product, prices could come under pressure.

Stocks are also reportedly building in some key EU producers, such as Germany, where prices have declined. As a net importer of product from the EU, price trends in Germany will affect developments here.

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